Irregular Expectations for Competitive Female Figure Skaters
To casual observers, figure skating must appear to be the most liberating art form. The free flow with which skaters move is dazzling and beautiful. It goes without saying that contestants follow a rigorous training regime to compete in competitions. However, the standards the contestants are up against are much higher than anyone would expect.
And, of course, judges are much harsher on female figure skaters than their male
counterparts. It’s not just the rules that skaters have to contend with. It’s a harsh world out there, and the competition can be fierce, resulting in some major rivalries. We’ve broken down some of the toughest challenges these ice skaters are up against.
A Strict Dress Code
Skaters aren’t just expressing themselves when they show up on the ice wearing what they do. Their outfits must conform to a strict code. Before 2003, all female skaters had to appear in a skirt, later amended to “skirt or full body suit.”
The rules state that a skater’s outfit must be “modest, dignified, and
competition-appropriate—not theatrical or garish.” Beads, sequins, and accessories are acceptable if they match the theme of the skater’s chosen music.
One-Piece Outfits Only
As well as mandating a skirt and “tasteful” skate-wear, judges outlaw the sight of the midriff. Outfits must be two-piece, with a “visible connection between the top and the bottom for women,” presumably meaning that men are free to show off their belly buttons.
Some skaters may look like they’re bearing more flesh than is allowed, but any skin you see tends to be skin-colored mesh panels. Their costume designers will add strips of fabric connecting the top part to the bottom to ensure they don’t lose any modesty points.
If a skater is able to beat out all the competition, they can expect to take home up to $25,000 as a grand prize. But not just anyone can expect to make it as an ice skater. It’s very much a sport for well-off parents.
The winnings might sound like a lot, but considering the fact that professional ice skaters have put around $50,000 into coaching, special equipment, physical therapy, and travel fees, it might become evident that ice skating is done for the love of it more than anything else. That’s not even counting the extra-curricular dance classes.
The True Cost
All the money expenses aside, there’s another hidden cost to this graceful and mesmerizing art form—the cost to a competitor’s mental and physical health. An incredible amount of pressure is laid on, day after day. As a result, many skaters live at constant breaking points.
The US skater Gracie Gold withdrew from the 2018 Winter Games due to issues involving anxiety and depression. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are common. The Russian contestant Yulia Lipnitskaya dropped out of the sport at 19 because she had developed anorexia.
Behind The Scenes Feuds
Unlike many sports, which are expected to be openly ruthless, ice skating is expected to be elegant, effortless, and artful. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an underlying rivalry bubbling under the surface.
From outfit theft to mind games, nothing is off the table. This kind of behind-the-scenes fighting occurs at all levels, even at the top. Notorious examples include a scandal in 2002 involving a French judge in the Salt Lake City Olympics and accusations of “score fixing.”
Count Your Jumps
Casual viewers of the sport might assume that jumps are performed liberally, but they’re highly calculated. Female contestants are only given seven jumps—one of them must be an “axel” jump, another a “triple,” and all contestants must perform a sequence of jumps.
Men are given a little more freedom when it comes to leaving the ice. They are able to jump eight times before being penalized. If these rules seem arbitrary, there are many other jumping-related rules to adhere to, including a controversial recent addition.
Arbitrary Point Back Loading
The addition of a new rule in Olympic figure skating has created a stir of controversy. Contestants are incentivized to execute more jumps in the second half, as this new rule states that judges must give a 10% bonus for a jump in the second half.
Given that skaters can only perform a certain number per program, many backload jumps into the second half of their routines. In 2018, Alina Zagitova beat her teammate Evgenia Medvedeva by jumping near-exclusively in the second half. Many contend 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.”