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Figure Skating Competitions: Dreaded and Loved at the Same Time

After hearing a request from a fellow classmate asking for details about skating competitions/judging procedures, today I will discuss the main components involved with the figure skating competition scene.

Ice skating competitions are one of those rare scenarios in life where you feel absolute dread, uncontrollable nerves, incredible excited-ness, and stress-anxiety-joy all at the same time. Training for competitions is absolutely dreadful in most cases. Preparation lasts all year long without any real breaks. Everyday that you skate, which is usually six days a week, you do your short and long program multiple times. You obsess over completing perfect program run-throughs; do double programs in a row; work on each jump, spin, footwork sequence, and transition separately a thousand times; and make yourself so exhausted that you can barely function as a normal human being anymore.

However, different levels obviously experience more or less torture than others.

There are nine levels of ice skating:

  • No test
  • Pre-preliminary
  • Preliminary
  • Pre-juvenile
  • Juvenile
  • Intermediate
  • Novice
  • Junior
  • Senior

No-test is the level above “basic skills” skating, which usually consists of just single jumps. The higher up you go in the levels, the harder the requirements get. (As a side note, to move up through the levels, you must pass so-called “freestyle tests,” which are completed with regular freeskate programs and the incorporation of required jumps for that test level. However, legitimate competitions “require” much harder jumps/combinations, spins, footwork sequences, etc. in order to be a serious competitor against other excellent skaters.)

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Senior level is what common folks consider to be “ice skating.” What they see on T.V. are typically big national and world competitions, i.e. U.S. Nationals and the Olympics.

Just as a personal addition, last December I took my senior freestyle test and passed! This means that I can now compete at senior level. Passing that test was a pretty awesome accomplishment that generated absolutely glorious feelings within me, just saying.

As far as competition judging goes, again, different levels experience different judging styles.  About ten years ago, the traditional 6.0 system was replaced in higher level competitions with a more advanced, technological (and frankly confusing) system known as IJS (International Judging System). After several years of testing this new system, the “new” judging system (it’s still called that today even though the procedure isn’t nearly new anymore) was applied to all levels from juvenile and above. The levels below juvenile, however, remained with the old 6.0 system. This is mainly because lower levels are typically younger kids who are not as honed and competitive as older, higher level skaters.

Explaining how IJS works is practically impossible because of how complicated it is (even to skaters themselves, sometimes). Basically, scores are divided into two main categories: technical components (jumps, spins, footwork) and program components (choreography, music interpretation, edge control, overall skating quality). Both categories have GOE (grade of execution) components to them, which describe how well an element (jump, spin, footwork) was performed. Every element is given a base value depending upon how hard it is. Then, depending upon how well or how poorly an element is performed, pluses or minuses are assigned to the pre-established base value.

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If you can’t tell, this new system is incredibly nitpicky. This is only made worse with the utilization of video cameras and instant feedback that goes right onto the judges’ and technical specialists’ computer screens! Thanks to this, judges and specialists can literally slow down any part of your program, pause it, replay it, etc. as many times as they want in order to find any possible flaws, edge changes, cheats (lack of enough rotation in a jump), etc. You literally cannot get away with anything. Everything is critiqued to the point of tears. Honestly, it’s essentially physically impossible to get a perfect base score on an entire program. Not even the greatest skaters are that amazingly perfect.

Regardless, with all the “blood, sweat, and tears” -esque training, the computer program judging, and the emotional strife that’s inevitable in this process, I will say with absolute confidence that the overwhelming feeling of relief, happiness, and pride that you feel after you’ve just finished a clean (flawless) program all alone on a smooth sheet of ice in front of a large panel of judges, technical specialists, videographers, photographers, and an audience is incomparably wonderful.

I love ice.

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