Figure skating is bringing us many delights in 2018, including Starr Andrews performing to the sound of her own voice and graceful Adam Rippon skating his heart out as the first openly gay athlete to qualify for the US Winter Olympics team.
One thing it hasn’t necessarily brought is understanding about judging and scoring of the sport, nor did the 2014 Winter Olympics really illuminate that. Because judging has been a source of controversy for decades now, the rules were changed back in 2002 — but while that brought more fairness to the sport, it did not bring more clarity. If you want to enjoy the sport, it helps to understand the scoring. Here’s how it works.
A Fairer Way to Judge Figure Skaters
Formerly, figure skaters were judged on a purely objective basis. Now, explains UT Austin, they’re judged on a 60 percent subjective, 40 percent objective model. There are two panels of judges: a three-person technical panel that carefully reviews all moves in the program and assigns a flat score based on technical proficiency and a nine-person judging panel that adds in the subjective element.
How the Judging Works
The technical panel is responsible for tallying the number of elements and how well each was executed. Each element is assigned a base score according to difficulty. When a skater attempts one of these elements during a program, the judging panel takes the base points that have been assigned to an element, and based on how the trick is executed, give it +3 or -3 points from there. These are Grades of Execution (GOEs). So just because a skater attempts an element with a high base score, it doesn’t mean they’ll get all the base points if they fall or make a misstep.
This results in an objective/subjective score for each element, called the Total Element Score (TES). The judging panel is responsible for another element of scoring as well: the entire program, which results in the Program Components Score (PCS). This is where the judges rate the routine as a whole, out of a possible 10.0 points. Judges factor in skating skills, transitions, performance, composition, and interpretation.
Balancing the Scores
The total scores from all judges for both the TES and the PCS are then fed into a computer, where seven of the nine are randomly selected. Then the top and bottom scores are discarded, leaving five Total Element Scores and five Program Components Scores. The Program Components Scores are added up and divided by five to give an average score out of 10. It’s then multiplied by a predetermined factor (by event) to weigh it more evenly with the Total Element Score.
The two sets of scores are combined to give the final score, called the Total Segment Score. Skaters can also lose points here for time limit violations, illegal elements, costume problems, falls, or interruptions in their program. To learn an even more detailed breakdown of how scores are determined, NBC Olympics has an entire guide.
Subjectivity remains, of course, and controversy over Olympic scoring continues to bubble up, but at least this scoring system brings an element of objectivity that benefits skaters and sport alike. Doubtless the Olympics will continue to surprise and amaze us as they bring more clarity, more equality, and more light to athletics and the world as a whole.
— Additional reporting by Hedy Phillips