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Figure Skating

Figure skating has been in the Olympics since 1908.


Figure Skating
Winter Olympics

TORINO, Italy (CNN) -- While skating in its most rudimentary form has been around for thousands of years, the sport of figure skating as we know it was developed with two great leaps forward in the mid-19th century.

In 1850, steel bladed skates were introduced, allowing more elaborate manoeuvres. By the next decade, specialist ballet and dance moves were being used.

How it is done

Four disciplines will be contested in Torino. The men's and ladies singles events are split into two sections: the short program and free skating. The short program last for not more than two minutes, 40 seconds, while the free program runs for four minutes for women and four minutes, 30 seconds for men. Skaters must perform eight elements such as jump combinations and spins in the short program while the free program allows an original arrangement.

The pairs event also comprises a short program and a free program and runs for not more than four minutes, 30 seconds. A pair must perform a combination of throws, lifts and other man oeuvres.

Ice dancing is similar in expression and execution to ballroom dancing. The emphasis is on synchronization with the chosen music and skaters maintain contact with each other, reducing the ability for perform lifts and jumps.

The event is split into compulsory, original and free dance sections. In the compulsory section, skaters must perform a pre-determined dance, while skaters may choose their own music and steps in the original section but must adhere to set rhythms. In the free section the skaters may interpret their chosen music in any way they choose.

Figure skating judges award a mark out of six for technical merit and for artistic impression. Skaters are then ranked by each judge according to the marks given.

What makes it hard

Just as much an art as a sport, figure skating requires strength, co-ordination and creativity. As the marks for technical proficiency and artistic interpretation are equally weighted, skaters must be equally adept at both.

The more jumps, lifts, spins and throws that are successfully performed, the greater the chance of a high score, but so too is the danger enhanced of falling or moving out of harmony with a partner. A routine must also be balanced, as a performance with too many manoeuvres will be judged just as harshly as one with too few. The routine should also make use of the entire rink.

Skaters must be graceful at all times, masking the immense physical effort required with a facade or enjoyment -- or at the very least, nonchalance.

Decoding the Jargon

You may hear some unfamiliar terms in the expert commentary at the figure skating during the Games. Here is what some of them mean:

Axel jump: The skater takes off from their forward outside edge and lands on the forward outside edge of their other foot. Other jumps include the salchow, loop, lutz and flip.

Camel spin: A spin with the free leg parallel to the ice and the body pitched forward with the arms extended

Flying sit spin: A spinning jump in which the skater takes off, assumes a sitting position and lands in that position on the same or opposite foot.

Death spiral: A pairs manoeuvre in which the man spins his partner round his body while she keeps her back nearly parallel with the ice and raises one leg.

Which means you can sound like an expert by saying: "A triple axel into a quadruple salchow and double lutz! Exquisite!"

Did you know?

Figure skating appeared at two Summer Olympic Games -- in London in 1908 and Antwerp in 1920 -- before making its Winter debut in 1924 in Chamonix.

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