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Figure skating 101: Rules, scores and judging

Nathan Chen skates short program at Four Continents competition
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Figure skating 101: Rules, scores and judging

The ins and outs of figure skating scoring for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics


The ladies, mens and pairs short programs last a maximum of two minutes, 50 seconds. The ladies free skate lasts between 3:50 and 4:10, but pairs and mens free skates lasts between 4:20 and 4:40.

The ice dance short dance lasts between 2:40 and 3 minutes, and the genre of music is always dictated by the International Skating Union (ISU). For the Olympic season, the short dance must use music with a Rhumba rhythm plus any number of the following Latin American dance rhythms: samba, mambo, meringue, salsa, bachata and any closely related Latin American or Caribbean rhythms.

The PyeongChang Olympics are the first Games in which ladies, mens and pairs skaters are permitted to use music with lyrics. The new rule was introduced for the 2014-15 season, but this is the first Olympics the rule change affects. Ice dancers had already been allowed to use music with lyrics.

The free dance has no required musical genre, but the music must be arranged in such a way that it has a rhythmic beat and creates an “interesting, colorful, entertaining dance program with difference dance moods or a building effect.” It lasts between 3:50 and 4:10.

All participants must have turned 15 years old before July 1, 2017 to be eligible for the PyeongChang Olympics.

Scores and judging

Briefly: Skaters receive two sets of marks for each program: the technical element score (TES) is based on the difficulty and execution of the technical elements, such as the jumps and spins, and the program component score (PCS) is based on artistry, interpretation and presentation. The TES and PCS are combined for a skater’s total score.

The Total Element Score (TES) is a sum of all the element scores.  A TES is determined by two sets of people for each program: the nine-person judging panel and a three-person technical panel.

The technical panel identifies each element (such as discerning a flip from a Lutz, or a quadruple jump from a triple jump). They are also charged with verifying if jumps are fully rotated or landed short.

For elements such as spins and footwork, the technical panel assigns levels numbered one through four, where four is the highest. A skater can enter the spin in a difficult way, or change edge or position during the spin in order to make it more difficult.

The members of the nine-person judging panel evaluate each element based on how well it was performed, assigning a grade of execution (GOE) between -3 and +3 to the element’s predetermined base value. The highest and lowest scores get dropped while the remaining seven GOE scores are averaged. A +3 GOE does not necessarily add three points onto the base value of an element. For example, in a triple Axel and all quad jumps earn three points when the judges assign it a +3 GOE. However, for the rest of the triple jumps, a +3 corresponds to 2.1 points added to the base value of the jump.

Then, the judging panel adds the base values with the GOEs to get the TES.

The Program Components Score (PCS) is based on the judges’ determination of the overall program, and not the individual elements. The judges mark five program components (skating skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation) on a scale from 0.25 to 10 (1 = very poor, 5 = average, 10 = outstanding).

The scores are averaged to form the score out of 10 for each component. Then, that total is multiplied by a factor (so that the TES and PCS are weighted more equally in the makeup of the score):


  • Short program: 1.0
  • Free skate 2.0


  • Short program: 0.8
  • Free skate: 1.6


  • Short program: 0.8
  • Free skate: 1.6

In ice dancing, the factors vary for each program component:

Short dance:

  • Skating Skills 0.80
  • Transitions/Linking Footwork 0.70
  • Performance/Execution 0.70
  • Choreography/Composition 0.80
  • Interpretation/Timing 1.00

Free dance:

  • Skating Skills 1.25
  • Transitions/Linking Footwork 1.75
  • Performance/Execution 1.00
  • Choreography/Composition 1.00
  • Interpretation/Timing 1.00

The factored results are rounded to two decimal places and added, providing the PCS.

The Total Segment Score (TSS) is the TES and the PCS added together. The skater’s final score is the TSS minus any deductions, which can be taken for a number of reasons: time limits, illegal elements, costume violations or malfunctions, program interruption, and falls.


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