Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

A Guide to Scoring Figure Skating at the Olympics

Harry How/Getty Images
Harry How/Getty Images

Have you watched figure skating at the Olympics and wondered what the heck is going on? Why did the guy who fell still win over guys that didn't fall at all?

First used during 2004 competitive season, the International Judging System (IJS) is the modus operandi for the competitive sport of figure skating. It's far more complex than the previous 6.0 system, and understandably creates a lot of questions about competition results from figure skating fans and insiders alike.

Here is a brief primer to help make better sense of it so you can enjoy the PyeongChang Games.

A Brief History

At the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, a French judge confessed to being pressured to take part in a vote-swapping scandal after a questionable result in the pairs competition that rocked the skating world. It forced the International Skating Union to dump the long-esteemed (and infamously subjective) 6.0 judging system and build a more objective system from scratch. The result was the IJS; to say it's complicated is like saying rocket science is basic arithmetic.

The (Im)Perfect 6.0

While the new system is complicated, the old system wasn't a cakewalk either. In the 6.0 system, a panel of judges (anywhere from three judges at small competitions to nine at major elite-level events) would assign skaters two marks for their performances, rating them on a scale of 0.0 (horrible) to 6.0 (perfection). The “technical merit” mark measured the level of difficulty and quality of execution of jumps and spins, and the “presentation” or “artistic merit” mark went for quality of overall performance, including footwork, artistry and interpretation of music. Those two scores were then added together and translated to “ordinals”—that is, if the top skater receives two 5.9s (a total of 11.8), and the next best receives two 5.8s (11.6), 11.8 becomes a “1,” while the 11.6 becomes a “2.” From there, the majority rules. If the top skater got a majority of first place ordinals, they win. To come in second, the next skater would need to receive a majority of second place ordinals or higher. Third place needs a majority of third or higher, and so on. 

After the 2002 Olympic pairs competition, it became evident that the 6.0 system was too easy to scam. The new system is designed to force the judges to dissect a skater's performance down to its individual elements.

...In with the new.

The new system is points-based. Skaters receive two marks for each performance—a “technical” score and a “program components” score—that are added together to form a composite score. Add the two together and the skater with the highest composite score wins.

But it's not as simple as it sounds. There are two sets of officials evaluating the competitors. The first is a “technical panel,” made up of five specialists (including an instant replay video operator) who watch each performance, identify each point-worthy element attempted by skaters, and assign it a base value in points. (For example, attempting a triple axel is worth 8.5 points, per the ISU's preordained rules.) Their evaluation provides one part of the overall technical score for the performance.

The second set of officials is a nine-member judging panel that evaluates the quality of execution of those identified elements, based on a scale of -3 to +3. (Falling while attempting a triple axel could earn a -3 score for that element, for example.) The judging panel's assessment provides the rest of the technical score.

The judging panel also assesses each skater's footwork, flow, skating quality, musical interpretation, and other movements that link the technical elements together to come up with the “program components” score.

Finally, there's an official referee, who oversees everything, to make sure there are no shenanigans afoot.

Racking up the points

To use the men's event from Sochi as illustration of the IJS scoring, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu won the gold medal  despite two falls and some major bobbles. (He won gold again in PyeongChang.) But Hanyu really knew how to work the system, throwing enough high-scoring elements into his program, and doing (most) of them with style. One could almost hear the cha-chinging of points in the bank as he completed each element, like Super Mario collects coins on his way to save the princess.

Here's how it played out: In Hanyu's 2014 gold medal-winning freeskate, his first technical element was a quadruple salchow, and he fell. So the technical panel looked at it and determined that yes, it was a quadruple salchow—in which he takes off on a back, inside-edge of a blade and completes four full rotations in the air—and thus it has a base value of 10.5 points. Boom! Points in the bank for Hanyu.

The judging panel then looked at it, saw that he fell, and gave him the lowest score for execution: -3. (All judges give individual scores, but the top and bottom scores are thrown out and the rest are averaged.) Add them together and Hanyu now has a total of 7.5 points. His next technical element was a quadruple toe loop, which he landed. Again, the technical panel determined that it was indeed a quad toe, so he got a base score of 10.3 points. The judging panel then awarded him 2.14 points for execution (it was a great jump), so he got 12.44 total for the quad toe. Add that to the quad salchow attempt, and the points racked up fast.

Just for comparison's sake, let's look at the first two elements of Canadian silver medalist Patrick Chan's freeskate.

Chan landed a quadruple-toe-loop-triple-toe-loop combination right off the bat. Because it was a combination of jumps, the technical panel said it was worth 14.40 points. The judging panel gave him the highest possible execution score of 3. That gave him 17.40 points. (At that point, Hanyu only had 7.5.) He then tried another quad toe, but touched his hand down on the ice during his landing. The technical panel gave him the base of 10.3 just like Hanyu, but the judging panel gave him -1.57 points because of the slight misstep. So he got a total of 8.73 points for the second quad toe, while Hanyu got a 12.44 for his.

In the end, Hanyu attempted more elements with higher base scores, and got higher grades of execution on most of them. The pair ended up with an almost four-point difference in their technical scores, and even though Chan got a higher program component score than Hanyu (by 1.72 points), it was not enough to make up the difference.

In the end, the final score in an Olympic- or World-level competition is actually a combination of the marks from the short program and the long program—so it's possible to do badly in one program or the other, and still win a medal, mathematically speaking.

Oh, and if you have several hours and want to know what every technical element is worth, feel free to comb through the exhaustive ISU rules.

2018 Winter Olympics By the Numbers: Which Country Was the Big Winner in Pyeongchang?

The closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics was held on Sunday, February 25, concluding more than two weeks of history-making figure-skating jumps and listening to curlers yell at each other. But if you're someone who tunes in to the Olympics only to see your country win, you may have been left feeling confused. There was no official winner announced at the end of the event, so how are you supposed to know which nation dominated the Winter Games? Judging solely by medal count, these are the countries that skied, skated, and slid their way to the top in Pyeongchang.

According to Bloomberg, Norway came out of the games as the most decorated country. The Scandinavian nation of 5.3 million took home 11 bronze, 14 silver, and 14 gold medals, bringing the total to 39. That makes Norway the biggest single nation winner at any Winter Olympics, breaking the prior record of 37, which was set by the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Norway was represented by about half the number of athletes competing on Team USA, but it was bolstered by a few advantages—like long winters (making training for cross-country sports easier), universal healthcare, and a culture that encourages young athletes to play sports for the sake of play rather than for the sake of winning.

Germany tied Norway for the most golds with 14, but earned 10 silver and seven bronze medals, landing them in second place with 31. Canada ranked third with 29 medals overall, 11 of which were gold, and the United States came in fourth with a tally of 23 medals, including nine golds. The Netherlands, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, France, and Austria round out the top 10.

Teams used to spending a lot of time on the podium may strive for that top slot, but placing in any event is impressive. The majority of teams that competed went home without any medals to show for their efforts. Fortunately, they have until 2022 to prepare for the next Winter Olympics in Beijing.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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The Most Decorated Winter Olympians in History
Lars Baron/Getty Images
Lars Baron/Getty Images

For most athletes, winning a medal at the Olympics would be the pinnacle of their career. But these athletes didn't stop at just one. They excelled under pressure and earned themselves a spot in the annals of their respective sports as the Most Decorated Winter Olympians.

1. Marit Bjørgen, 14 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Marit Bjørgen
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Bjørgen became the most decorated athlete at the 2010 Vancouver Games with five medals. She added three gold medals in 2014 to bring her lifetime total up to six golds, three silvers, and one bronze—making her the most successful female Olympian. With a gold, silver, and two bronze medals in PyeongChang, she became the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time.

2. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 13 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Biathlon

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Bjoerndalen won two gold medals at Sochi in 2014—in men's sprint biathlon and in the first Olympic mixed relay biathlon—to give him the lead in career-medal count. His hardware collection now includes eight gold medals, four silver, and one bronze. The 44-year-old failed to qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

3. Bjorn Daehlie, 12 Medals

Country: Norway
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Bjorn Daehlie
Bob Martin/ALLSPORT/Getty Images

When Bjoerndalen won his 13th career medal, he surpassed fellow countryman Daehlie, who had held the record for most Olympic medals since his dominance in the '90s. Over three Winter Games Daehlie won eight gold and four silver medals before sustaining a career-ending injury as a result of a roller-skiing accident in 1999.

4 (tie). Raisa Smetanina, 10 Medals

Country: Russia
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Osetrov Yuri/ITAR-TASS/Landov

Although Bjørgen and Belmondo (below) have since matched her, Smetanina was the first woman to win 10 Olympic medals. Her final, a gold medal, came at her fifth Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992. She was 39 years old—at that time the oldest woman to win a Winter Olympic gold.

4 (tie). Stefania Belmondo, 10 Medals

Country: Italy
Sport: Cross-country skiing

Stefania Belmondo

Belmondo's Olympic career spanned a decade—from the 1992 Albertville Games through the 2002 Salt Lake City Games—despite a devastating injury in 1993. She ended her career with two gold medals, three silver, and five bronze.

6 (tie). Lyubov Yegorova, 9 Medals

Country: Russia
Sport: Cross-country skiing

REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

Yegorova only made two Olympic appearances: at Albertville in 1992, and two years later at Lillehammer. She managed to squeeze nine medals out of those Games—six gold and three silver—before her career came to an end due to a doping scandal at the 1997 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships.

6 (tie). Claudia Pechstein, 9 Medals

Country: Germany
Sport: Speed skating

Claudia Pechstein
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Pechstein is the most successful Olympic speed skater—male or female—in the world, and also the most successful German Winter Olympian of all time. That said, she missed the chance to set herself even further apart in the 2010 Games after getting slapped with a two-year ban from the sport in 2009 for doping accusations.

6 (tie). Sixten Jernberg, 9 Medals

Country: Sweden
Sport: Cross-country skiing

1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jernberg (right) was a blacksmith and a lumberjack before beginning his career as a cross-country skier. Over three Olympics in the 1950s and '60s, he earned four gold, three silver, and two bronze medals, never finishing lower than fifth.

6 (tie). Uschi Disl, 9 Medals

Country: Germany
Sport: Biathlon


This five-time Olympian is the owner of two gold medals, four silver and three bronze, and the 2005 title of German Sportswoman of the Year. She has been the most successful women’s biathlete at the Olympic Games, although she never won a gold in an individual event.