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Like many winter sports, figure skating's roots grew from necessity. As a mode of transportation for warfare and hunting in Northern Europe, skating was a swift way to cross frozen lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. Warriors and hunters crafted makeshift skates of reindeer antlers or elk bones, and later iron and steel. By the 16th century, skaters were transporting goods across frozen waterways.
In 1892, the International Skating Union (ISU) was founded. Six years later, the first ISU-sanctioned event was held, and organisers hoped it might soon become an official Olympic sport. Because competitions could be held indoors, figure skating was added to the Olympic programme for the 1908 Summer Games. Figure skating became an official Olympic Winter Games sport at the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix.
There are four Olympic Figure Skating events: womens singles, men's singles, pairs, and ice dancing.
The singles event consists of two sections: the short programme, and free skating. The short programme combines eight prescribed elements such as jump combinations and spins. In the free skating programme, skaters, perform an original arrangement of techniques to music of their choice. As judges deduct points for a programme that consists of too many or too few jumps, a balanced programme is important.
The pairs event also consists of a short programme and free skating. The couple works as one unit, demonstrating overhead lifts, throw-jumps with the man launching his partner, and other manoeuvres. The performance requires harmony, strength and grace.
Ice dancing is similar to ballroom dancing. The focus is on the complex steps in time with the music. The skaters maintain contact with each other, limiting lifts and jumps.
The ice dancing event consists of three sections: compulsory, original, and free dances. In compulsory dancing, the couple performs one pre-determined dances. Original dance must follow selected rhythms, though the pair can choose their own music and interpretative steps. In free dancing the pair freely express their interpretation of the music they have chosen.
Axel jump: Named after its Norwegian inventor, Axel Paulsen, the Axel jump is easily recognised: it is the only jump that takes off from a forward position. Skaters launch into the air from their forward outside edge and land on the back outside edge of the opposite
Blade: Modern figure skate blades are curved slightly. Only the bottom quarter-inch of a blade is made from time-tempered steel to maintain a sharp edge. The "sweet spot" of the blade is below the ball of the foot.
Camel spin: A spin on one leg with the non-skating or free leg extended parallel to the ice and the upper body pitched forward, arms extended.
Combination: Two skills performed with one immediately after the other are said to be done in "combination." In a combination jump, for example, the skater must not turn or change feet between jumps, i.e., the second jump must take off from the same foot that the first jump landed on.
Combination spin: A sequence in which the skater changes feet and positions while maintaining speed throughout a continuous spin.
Composition required element mark: The first of two marks awarded in the original dance. Judges consider the programme's use of the ice surface, originality, difficulty, sureness and unclusion of the required elements.
Compulsory dances: The compulsory dance are each worth 10 percent of the team's total score in ice dancing. All skaters perform the same two dances which are of 2 different rhythms. There are 6 different selections of music for each dance. Each of the two dances has specific steps that must be done in an exact manner. Teams receive one technique mark and one timing/expression mark for each dance.
Crossover: A method of gaining speed in which skaters cross one foot over the other. There are forward and backward crossovers.
Draw: The starting order for each event in a figure skating competition is determined by a lottery or "draw." Either the referee or chair of the competition conducts the process in the presence of other judges (closed draw) or in an open setting where the athletes actually draw a number from a pouch (open draw).
Edge jump: A jump in which the skater takes off from his or her skating foot without bringing the free foot in contact with the ice to assist the takeoff is referred to as an "edge jump." The Axel, loop and Salchow are common edge jumps.
Flip jump: A toe pick-assisted jump launched from the back inside edge of one foot and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot.
Flying sit spin: A jump spin in which the skater leaps off the ice, assumes the sitting position at the peak of the jump, and lands in a similar sitting position on the same or other foot.
Free dance: The free dance, which counts for 50 percent of an ice dance team's total score, has fewer restrictions than other parts of ice dance but there are required and specified elements that must be included. Skaters select the mood and tempo of their music and are allowed four minutes to display a full range of technical skills and inventiveness using choreography of their own design. Teams receive one technical merit mark and one presentation mark.
Free skating: The free skate counts for 66.7 percent of a skater or team's final score in the singles and pairs competitions, and is skated second (following the short programme). Skaters select their music and craft their choreography to best display their technical and artistic skills. The free skate is limited to four and a half minutes for men and pairs, and four minutes for ladies.
Hand-to-hand lasso type lifts: Overhead lifts in which the lady rotates already on the way up (contrary for example to the loop lift).
Hydrant lift: A lift in which the man throws his partner over his head while skating backwards, rotates one-half turn and catches her facing him.
Layback spin: Generally performed by women, the layback spin is a variant of the upright spin. The skater arranges her arms in a circle in front of her body, arches her back, and looks toward the ceiling while spinning.
Line: A skater's carriage and position relative to the ice is referred to as his or her "line." The term is also used in ballet and dance.
Long programme: Slang for the free skating portion of the singles and pairs competitions.
Loop jump: An edge jump launched from a back outside edge and landed on the same back outside edge.
Lutz jump: A toe-pick assisted jump launched from a back outside edge and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. The skater glides backward on a wide curve, taps his toe pick into the ice and rotates in the opposite direction of the curve. The jump is named after its inventor, Austria's Alois Lutz.
Marks: Judges award marks to each skater/pair ranging from 0 to 6 based on the following scale: 0 = Not skated 1 = Very poor 2 = Poor 3 = Mediocre 4 = Good 5 = Very good 6 = Outstanding Tenths represent gradations of opinion (i.e. a 4.5 is between good and very good).
Mirror skating: Opposite movements performed by pair of skaters in close proximity to one another.
Original dance: The original dance is worth 30 percent of the team's total score in ice dancing and is competed following the compulsory dance. Skaters are given a prescribed combination of rhythms (such as the Spanish Medley) and must create a completely original version of the dance. The original dance has a time limit of two minutes 30 seconds. Teams receive one composition required elements mark and one presentation mark.
Overhead lifts: A pairs lift in which one or both of the man's arms are fully extended as he holds his partner overhead. The man does not let go of his partner during the lift, except momentarily during changes in her position or during the dismount. Ascending, rotational and descending movements should be precise.
Platter lift: A lift in which the man raises his partner overhead with his hands resting on her hips and she extends her body horizontal to the ice in a position that resembles a waiter holding a platter.
Presentation mark: The second of two marks awarded in the singles and pairs short programme and free skate, and the original and free dance. Judges consider the programme's conformity to the music and the skaters' variation of speed, use of the ice surface and space, carriage and style, originality and expression.
Quadruple jump: Any jump of four or more, but less than five, revolutions.
Referee: Referees have full authority over all aspects of an event. It is the referee's responsibility to ensure that all rules are observed, that a high standard of judging is maintained, and that all technical aspects of the competition are satisfactory. The referee also assesses the marking of the judges, holds a post event review meeting, and writes a report on the performance of the skating and the judges for the ISU technical committees concerned.
Required elements mark: The first of two marks awarded in the singles and pairs short programme (the presentation mark is the second). Judges evaluate skaters' execution of eight required skills.
Salchow: An edge jump launched off the back inside edge of one foot and landed on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. Named after its originator, Ulrich Salchow, who won ten World Championships titles from 1901 to 1911.
Scratch spin: One of the most basic of all spins, the scratch spin is one of the hardest to do correctly. It consists of the skater standing up straight over the left leg while spinning on an inside edge. The right leg is extended in front of the body with the thigh raised high, and the arms are up and out to the side. Bringing in the free leg and arms accelerates the spin.
Shadow skating: Identical movements performed by a pair of skaters in close proximity to one another.
Short programme: The short programme counts for 33.3 percent of a skater or team's final score in singles and pairs, and is skated first (ahead of the free skating). The short programme is not more than 2 minutes, 40 seconds long and comprises eight standard ("required") elements performed by all competitors.
Single jump: Any jump of one or more, but less than two, revolutions.
Sit spin: A spin in a sitting position close to the ice with the skating (spinning) leg bent at the knee and the non-skating or "free" leg extended.
Spins: Skills in which skaters rotate on their vertical axes while maintaining contact with the ice with one or both skates.
Spiral: A move in which skaters demonstrate flexibility and a fluid line by extending the non-skating leg behind them into the air during a long glide.
Star lift: A lift in which the man raises his partner by her hip from his side into the air and she assumes a scissors position with one hand touching his shoulder or in a hands-free position.
Starting order: The result of the draw, the starting order lists the sequence in which skaters will compete and the groups they will warm up with prior to competition.
Step sequence: A sequence of steps that immediately follow one another, executed in time to the music.
Technical merit mark: The first of two marks awarded in the singles and pairs free skating and the free dance (the presentation mark is the second). Judges evaluate the programme's difficulty, variety, sureness and speed.
Technique mark: The first of two marks awarded in the compulsory dance in ice dancing (the timing/expression mark is the second). Judges evaluate the dance steps' placement and conformity to appropriate diagrams and descriptions, the couple's movement in unison, body positions, style, and sureness.
Throw jump: A pairs move in which the lady partner is thrown in the air by the man and lands without assistance on a backward outside edge. Depending on the number of revolutions of the lady, throw jumps can be single, double, triple or quadruple.
Timing/expression mark: The second of two marks awarded in the compulsory dance in ice dancing (the technique mark is the first). Judges evaluate the timing of the skaters' steps in relation to the music and the clarity of the expression of the dance.
Toe overhead lift: A lift in which the man swings his partner from one side of his body around behind his head and into a raised position. She faces the same direction as the man in a split position.
Toe picks: Teeth cut into the toe of the blade are used for pushing off in jumps and as the pivot point during spins.
Triple jump: Any jump of three or more, but less than four, revolutions.
Twist lift: A pairs lift in which the man lifts his lady partner over his head and tosses her in the air, where she rotates and then is caught and placed back on the ice. Depending on the number of revolutions of the lady twist lifts can be single, double, triple or quadruple.
Upright spin: Executed forward or backward, the basic upright position consists of an erect posture and free foot held next to the skating foot with the side of the toe touching the calf of the skating leg.
Waltz jump: Skaters launch into the air from their forward outside edge and complete a half rotation. Basically half an Axel, the waltz is rarely performed in competition.