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Understanding Olympic Figure Skating

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In less than two days from now the eyes of the world will be focused on Vancouver, British Columbia and the hundreds of supremely talented athletes who will be competing there. It might be helpful to have a basic understanding of the events in which these athletes will take part in order to more fully appreciate the talent that will be showcased over the next few weeks.

Figure skating is one of the events that will take center stage and also one of the most beautiful and technically difficult of winter sports. It requires an enormous amount of instruction and training to be able to compete at an Olympic level. First, a little history of this popular activity. The first skating club (that we know of) was organized in Scotland 168 years ago. It was probably done more for exercise than anything else at that time. 28 years later someone had the idea to combine the smooth glide across the ice with dance elements and that comprised what we now know as figure skating.

In the Olympic games there are currently three categories of competition in the figure skating event. There are the singles, pairs and ice dancing categories. In the singles event (men and women compete separately). the participants must perform eight maneuvers of varying degree of difficulty and conclude with a segment of free style skating. In the pairs category, the goal is to synchronize movements while performing such feats as overhead lifts, throws, spins and death spirals. (sounds a bit ominous don’t you think) The ice dancing is a version of ballroom dancing performed on the ice and is spectacular to observe.

Scoring is based on a 6.0 system wherein marks are given for technical merit, required elements and presentation. There are 16 judges, though the judging field is quickly narrowed to a randomly selected 9 from which the highest score and the lowest score are eliminated. This results in the seven judging scores which are then averaged to select the overall winner.

Nancy Smith is one of the owners of RobbinsSports.com, an online retailer specializing in basketball backboards and punching dummies.