The Bizarre World of Female Figure Skating

By: Kate Row | Last updated: Nov 03, 2023

There are few sights more compelling than a figure skating floating through her dance, costume lightly fluttering as she jumps and twirls to perfection. Her hair is perfect, her makeup flawless, and she is always smiling, making her performance look effortless. 

But there is another side to the world of female figure skaters; these young women face challenges you never hear about.

 Those Gorgeous Outfits

The skaters’ dresses must conform to strict rules. At one point, the outfit had to be a skirt, and after 2003 they were allowed to wear body suits.




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There’s more – the outfit must be, to quote the rule book, “modest, dignified, and competition-appropriate—not theatrical or garish.” They can add beads, sequins, and accessories, but only if they are consistent with the music to which the skater is performing.


Don't Show that Midriff!

The rule book also forbids baring the skater’s midriff, and the outfit must be made of two pieces. So when you see a skater wearing an outfit that seems to show off skin, you can be sure that under the dress, she is wearing a flesh-colored body stocking.




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A skater can lose points if she disobeys these rules, so costume designers must follow the rule book. Modesty is essential to the judges, and the skater might lose points for an inappropriate outfit.

It Ain't Cheap

A skater can win up to $25,000 as a grand prize. That’s a lot, but what amount did the family spend to get her to that final competition?


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To develop a young woman into a professional ice skater, the family must shell out for the coach, the equipment, the medical specialists, and travel. Then, let’s add the costs for the family members to travel, the hotel stays, and extra dance classes. That comes to at least $50,000.


What about The Physical and Mental Costs?

You only have to see the face of a skater who falls during her performance to understand the incredible stress that these young performers endure. There is the constant fear of losing one’s place in the rankings, of failing at competitions, and of an injury. 






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For example, the US skater Gracie Gold withdrew from the 2018 Winter Games due to issues involving anxiety and depression, and Russian contestant Yulia Lipnitskaya dropped out of the sport at 19 because she had developed anorexia.

The Rivalries

Like all sports, skaters succumb to ugly backstage arguments and rivalries. There is jealousy and back-biting even at the highest levels of competition.


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For example, in 2002 a French judge in the Salt Lake City Olympics was accused of “score fixing.” And we all remember the bitter, violent rivalry between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Olympics.


Who's Counting? Everyone Has To

Did you know that female ice skaters are only allowed seven jumps, one of which must be an axel and another a triple? In addition, there is a strict sequence that the skaters must follow to gain points.



Source: FigureSkating/ Pinterest

Men, however, can jump eight times. There is a long list of rules, some for men and some for women. Recently a new rule caused some disruption in the skating world.


A New Rule and Controversy

A new rule was recently added to the skaters’ book. The rule states that if a skater executes more jumps in the second half of her routine, judges must give her a 10% bonus. This new rule probably acknowledges the difficulty of jumping once the skater is more tired.



Source: figure skating gallery/ Pinterest

Since skaters can only perform a certain number of jumps per program, many “backload” their jumps into the second half of their routines. The controversy erupted in 2018 when Alina Zagitova beat her teammate Evgenia Medvedeva by performing almost all her jumps in the second half. Protesters contended that Medvedeva was beaten out on a technicality.


Backflips Are Out

Ice skate judges do not recognize backflips during a program, considering them to be too flashy and dangerous to allow. Backflipping on ice is also incredibly difficult to pull off. Surya Bonaly was the last person to pull this trick off in front of an official function.


This won her adoration from the audience but scorn from the judges. Terry Kubicka was the first skater to do it in recent memory, in 1976. She was also responsible for getting the move banned during her performance after pulling it off flawlessly.


The Lipinski Rule

Since ice skating is such a demanding art form, it makes sense to prevent contestants from wearing themselves out too young to compete. In 1998, Tara Lipinski, then 15 years old, dominated her competition in the Winter Olympics in Nagano.


The Lipinski rule stipulates that no contestant may compete before reaching their 15th birthday one year before the competition. While this rule makes sense, it isn’t always enforced. Yulia Lipnitskaya took home gold while she was six days younger than Lipinski when she won.


Music And Tradition

Competitors were limited in their choice of music to classical, non-lyrical tracks all the way up until 2018. This change allowed for more variety and was made to draw more attention to the sport in the face of declining viewership.


To this day, there is heavy opposition from traditionalist fans, who argue that it debases the sport. However, the competitions are certainly now more memorable. For example, the 2018. Olympic ice skating competition went with a Latin rhythm theme.


Watch The Clock

With a program being as short as four minutes, the clock is ticking, and every second counts. If a contestant goes over or under by ten seconds, it’s no big deal. Any more, and they lose points—one for every five seconds over or under.


Don’t go too fast, but don’t go too slow! Skaters have to have a great sense of time. The moment the music starts, you’re racing against the clock. You can lose as many points for hanging over the time limit as you can for falling.


The Strenuous Testing Policy

As in all other sports, ice skate competitors are expected to take regular substance tests. Unlike other sports, however, ice skaters are subject to far more draconian measures. Alina Zagitova was famously pulled away from her first day of training in the 2018 Winter Games for a spot check.


These tests can cost competitors a whole day of training. Additionally, some birth control medications can flag a positive result. It’s good to ensure everyone follows the rules and stays clean, but it still seems excessive.


Skin In The Game? Walk Of Shame

Anything can happen during a performance—including wardrobe malfunctions. Showing
some skin during a performance would be horrifying, but it can also cost points as well. Any part of clothing that touches the ice deducts points from the skater’s final score.


It doesn’t need to be a large part of a skater’s outfit. Feathers and fringes all cost one point each. Of course, bodily slips also cost points. The “Biellmann Spin,” a move in which the skater lifts a leg behind their head and holds it in two hands, is notorious for causing this kind of “slippage.”