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How to Understand the Olympic Figure Skating Scoring System

No clue how the figure skater who fell got a higher score than the one who didn't? Welcome to the International Skating Union's scoring system. We'll do our best to explain it.


  • Step 1: Know the score Realize that things have changed: If you haven't watched figure skating since Nancy Kerrigan was whacked in the knee, you may be surprised to learn that the old system – where 6.0 was a perfect score – was phased out beginning in 2003. Skaters now accumulate points, with no score being "perfect."
  • TIP: The cumulative scoring system was implemented to prevent judges from fixing a competition as well as to make scoring less subjective.
  • Step 2: Understand the revised system Understand the basics of the revised system: Skaters receive a base value for every single move they execute in a program, based on its difficulty. They get this basic score just for attempting the move, whether they flub it or not. That's why a person can fall and still score higher than a person who skated cleanly.
  • Step 3: Understand the technical elements scores Understand the technical elements scores. The judges give "grades of execution," which are the number of points a judge adds to or subtracts from each move's base value, depending on how well it was performed. Skaters can gain or lose up to 3 points from the base value of the move.
  • TIP: A fall carries a mandatory deduction of one point
  • Step 4: Identify the program components Identify the program components – five elements the skaters are also judged on. They are choreography, skating skills, transition, execution, and interpretation. Judges award marks on a scale of one-fourth of a point to 10 points, in increments of quarter-points.
  • TIP: Ice dancers are also judged on timing their moves to the music.
  • Step 5: Know how it's added up Know how the score is determined: During the routine, a technical specialist confirms the elements that have been performed, which are added up for the total base value. The judges then give their grades of execution for the technical elements and scores for the program components.
  • Step 6: Final score is tallied A computer randomly selects the scores awarded by seven out of nine judges. Of those scores, the lowest and highest are thrown out and the remaining five are totaled for a final score. The marks of all nine judges are displayed, so the judges don't know whether or not their marks contributed to the score.
  • TIP: Winning scores range from 200 to 250 for men, and about 200 for women, pairs, and ice dancing.
  • Step 7: Enjoy the show Be glad you can just sit back and enjoy the show without worrying about grading the moves!
  • FACT: The scoring system was implemented after the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when a French judge and a Russian judge were discovered colluding to help each other's skaters.

You Will Need

  • The International Skating Union scoring rules
  • A keen eye

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