Winter Olympics - Figure SkatingCourtesy of The United States Olympic Committee
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 traverse 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.
As the technology of the skate and blade improved, skating slowly emerged as a recreational and leisure sport. In the 1600s, the Dutch used their frozen canals to skate from village to village, mastering the skating maneuver known as the "Dutch Roll," a simple skill that involves pushing off from one skate and gliding on the other. To this, the French added pirouettes and spins.
In 1892, the International Skating Union (ISU) was founded. Six years later, the first ISU-sanctioned event was held, and organizers hoped it might soon become an official Olympic sport. Because competitions could be held indoors, figure skating was added to the Olympic program for the 1908 Summer Games. Figure skating became an official Olympic Winter Games sport at the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix.
Figure skating was the first winter sport included in the Olympic Games when it appeared at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. The singles and pairs competitions also appeared in the 1920 Antwerp Summer Games before making their winter debut in Chamonix in 1924.
The singles and pairs events have been part of every Olympic winter program. Ice dancing debuted at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck and has been a part of the Olympic program ever since.
The United States has won the most Olympic Medals with a total of 40 (12 gold, 13 silver and 15 bronze). The United States has been exceptionally strong in ladies' singles, winning more than a third of the event's medals in history.
The past two Olympic figure skating competitions have been dominated by the Russians, who won six of the possible eight gold medals and 10 in total. Ladies' singles is the one title that has eluded the Russians in the past two Olympics.
Olympic figure skating consists of four medal events or disciplines: ladies' singles, men's singles, pairs and ice dancing.
Men's and Ladies' Singles
Singles skaters display a high level of aesthetic form and technical skill under a great amount of pressure.
Each competition is comprised of two parts -- a short program (worth 33.3 percent of the final score) and a free skate (66.7 percent).
Pairs skating is performed in unison by partners who execute daring and difficult overhead lifts, throw jumps and spins. The key to pairs skating is exact timing and simultaneous movement.
The pairs discipline, like singles, has a short program (worth 33.3 percent of the final score) with eight required elements and a longer free skate (66.7 percent).
There are three segments of competition in ice dancing: (two) compulsory dances, an original dance and a free dance. Each compulsory dance is worth 10 percent of a team's final score. The original dance is worth 30 percent and the free dance is worth 50 percent.
Each dance team in the compulsory dance competition performs the same two compulsory dances. Judges evaluate competitors' unison, timing, expression and the accuracy and placement of their dance steps.
For the original dance, dance teams are given a prescribed rhythm with a defined tempo range -- like the Jive or the Paso Doble -- and must create an original version of the dance.
The free dance allows dance teams to display a full range of technical skill and inventiveness with artistry to music of their own choosing. Teams use changes of position, intricate and varied dance holds, small lifts and difficult footwork to present their best skills.