A beginner’s guide to figure skating 

Whether you’re skating or spectating, our beginner’s guide tells you everything you need to know about this Olympic sport.

Gliding, leaping, spinning and soaring – figure skating is an ice-capped spectacle of precision, strength and finesse. Whether you want to get involved in this elegant sport or fine-tune your knowledge ready for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, you’ll find all the information you need right here in our beginner’s guide.

History of Olympic figure skating

Figure skating is the oldest winter event on the Olympic programme, having made its debut at the London 1908 Games. In the modest setting of the Prince’s Skating Club, women and men from around the world brushed the ice with their skates, competing in four singles and pairs events.

Great Britain dominated the podium, coming home with six medals, while Sweden clinched three of the four golds. Thanks to its popularity with Olympic spectators, figure skating reappeared at the Summer Games in the Dutch city of Antwerp in 1920, before the first Winter Olympics were launched in Chamonix 1926, right in the heart of the French Alps.

Over the years, some of the most historic Olympic moments have unfolded on the rink. From Torvill and Dean’s iconic Bolero routine to the ’Battle of the Brians’, this elite competition never stops for a breath. Skaters strive for bigger and better, with higher lifts and more complex jumps – all in pursuit of that big-time score.

Watch the standout moments from more than a century of Olympic figure skating in this video.


How Olympic figure skating is scored

Olympic figure skating is renowned for having a complex scoring system, but it’s just a case of understanding the different elements. Every performance is given a Total Elements Score (TES) and Program Component Score (PCS). These two numbers are combined to give the Total Segment Score (TSS), of which the highest wins. We’ll go into more detail about each part of the scoring system below.

Total Elements Score (TES)

The TES judges the technicality of the routine, awarding points for skating moves based on their difficulty and execution. All sequences, lifts and jumps have a predefined mark of difficulty and a base value score which reflects that. There are strict rules on how many technical elements can be performed in each routine to ensure competitors are judged fairly.

During the performance, nine judges will assess each designated move, awarding a Grade of Execution (GoE) between -5 and +5 points. Seven of the nine scores are randomly selected, the highest and lowest are excluded, and then the remaining five scores are averaged. This number is then added or subtracted from the base value score. The more difficult the move, the higher the base value score and the greater the potential gains – or indeed, losses.

This process is repeated for every technical aspect of the routine. At the end of the performance, the scores for each move are added together to give the TES.

Program Component Score (PCS)

The PCS focusses on five elements of the performance: skating skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation of the music. The same nine judges award a mark out of 10 for each of the five categories, scoring in 0.25 increments. The highest and lowest scores are dropped, and the remaining are averaged out to give the PCS.

Total Segment Score (TSS)

When the TES and PCS have been recorded, they are added together to give the Total Segment Score. At this stage, any penalty points will be deducted for errors including:

· Falling during the routine

· Lifts which last longer than the rules allow

· Part of the costume falling on the ice

Competitors can also gain bonus points, which are added at this stage. During the singles figure skating, performers get extra credit for jumps during the second half of the routine.

Olympic figure skating champion Alina Zagitova took full advantage of this during the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, using her incredible strength to do her most difficult moves during the second part of her programme. Watch her free skating performance here.


How to get involved in figure skating

When the world’s first skating club opened in Edinburgh, back in 1742, applicants had to successfully jump over three hats piled up on the ice to secure their membership. Thankfully, there’s no hat-jumping required these days. To get involved in figure skating, view the official list of International Skating Union (ISU) member federations to find approved courses, clubs and training in your area.

Great Britain

The National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain (NISA) has developed an eight-stage programme for amateur skaters, called Skate UK. This beginner’s course is open to people of all ages and abilities, with registered coaches and classes across the country. Find out more information.

US and Canada

Aspiring skaters in the US can find places to train through the national US Figure Skating body. You can search for a club near you, and there are ISU-approved clubs in most states.

Canada, home of reigning PyeongChang Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, encourages learners to enrol in the CanSkate programme. Open to beginners of all ages, including children and adults, clubs across the nation can help you find your feet on the ice before progressing onto STARSkate figure skating training.


Head to Ice Skating Australia to find a full list of clubs in regions across the country, from Queensland to Tasmania and beyond. Aussie Skate is the official programme for beginners, offering classes for people of all ages.

The best figure skating moves for beginners

If you want to try figure skating, start with the basics. First, you need to get used to moving on the ice. Find a local rink, hire some blades and practise skating around the perimeter of the rink without holding on to the side; your balance will soon attune to the slippery surface – with a comedy fall thrown in here and there. When your confidence starts to grow, you can work on basic moves such as:

  • March forwards
  • Skate and dip
  • Turn on the spot

Away from the rink, you can develop your skills using some workout videos on the Olympic Channel. Strengthen your body positioning and improve your balance with the help of Italian figure skaters Ondřej Hotárek and Anna Cappellini.

Whether you’re skating or spectating, take inspiration from our figure skating video library, packed with features on the stars of today, unforgettable routines and helpful.


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