Figures And Figure Skating
Why did they discontinue to use figures in figure skating? Back when, the skaters were tested for balance,footwork, overall coordination and basic skills also acrobatic flair.
Why didn't they keep the compulsory or "school" figures? That's the part of figure skating I miss. I though that part of the figure skating was beautiful to watch. The way the skaters formed the tangent circles with instructions as to which edge of the blade and which foot to use in tracing them. When the skater performed their three figures and the accuracy of the tracings, cleanness of the lines, and graceful carriage of the skater were important considerations in scoring.
Can any body remember what this meant in the figures:
Because for the increasingly important TV audience,
1. Viewers couldn't understand why the best free skate performances, which were televised, didn't win competitions that were already locked by the untelevised figures stage
2. Watching figures was akin to watching paint dry.
Another aspect probably was the enormous time and expense of learning the school figures. The singles skaters had to practice their figure eight patterns for hours on a daily basis, and the cost of rink time, coaching time, etc. was probably prohibitive. As one of the posters wrote, television had a big part to do with this too. The public wanted to see the free skating - the jumps, spins, etc., and not the tedious school figures. I posted this a while ago:
I’m sure many of us have seen figure skating books and/or manuals that contain photographs or drawings of skaters tracing school figures. These intricate patterns, all variations of the figure eight, were originally the entire content of figure skating competitions. Competitive skaters of the early era (before World War I or so) traced the figures in outdoor competitions.
While jumping, spinning, and other athletic maneuvers were added to the sport and a program of skating was added to the competition, the school figures, for many years, carried the majority of weight in the overall score. If you weren’t a strong school figures skater, you simply could not expect to win a medal, unless the rest of the field self-destructed. As late as 1968, when Peggy Fleming won the Olympic gold medal, the school figures comprised 60 percent of her total score. Peggy emassed such a huge lead in the figures that her victory was a foregone conclusion. Her free skating was also outstanding – elegant and athletic. However, had Peggy not been a strong school figures skater, she would not have won the Olympic title or her three World titles.
Austrian Trixi Schuba won two World titles and the 1972 Olympic gold medal, based on the strength of her outstanding school figures. Trixi was probably the best school figures skater of all time, as her tracings were, typically, exactly on axis and right on top of each other. The scoring was changed so that the figures and long program were 50/50 in weight; however, you still had to be a strong figures skater to medal. Trixi built up such enormous leads that all she had to do – pretty much – was stay on her feet and not fall nine times to win the title. Her free skating was quite weak and almost embarrassing, compared to the strong free skaters of her era, such as Karen Magnussen, Janet Lynn, and Julie Lynn Holmes. At the 1972 Worlds, Schuba’s final amateur competition, she won the figures by a wide margin and then finished only 7th in the free skate – yet she still won by a substantial margin. As part of her exhibition performance, Trixi traced a few figure eights on the ice.
The school figures were reduced to 30 percent of the overall score, with the new short program weighing 20 percent and the long program 50 percent by the 1980s. However, the figures still sometimes determined the final outcome. At the 1984 Olympics, Brian Orser finished 7th in the figures, won both the short and long programs, yet had to settle for the silver medal behind Scott Hamilton, who had won the figures and finished 2nd in both the short and long programs. Had there not been school figures, Orser might have won the title.
The judges sometimes used the school figures as a means of marking up and marking down skaters to set them up for medals. The figures were also used as a basis for making new skaters “wait their turn”. Typically, a skater in his/her first appearance at Worlds could expect to be placed lower then 10th in the school figures, even if he or she skated solid figures. I think of the 1990 Worlds in which Todd Eldredge, the new US champion, skated clean figures, yet was ranked out of the top 10. He skated good short and long programs, but finished out of the medals. At the 1984 Winter Olympics, US silver medalist Tiffany Chin skated good figures but was marked 12th. She finished 2nd in the short and 3rd in the long program and 4th overall. Had she received the marks she deserved to receive for the figures, she may well have won a medal. Conversely, at the 1988 Worlds, Katarina Witt skated subpar school figures – really blowing one of them – and she was ranked 1st in that discipline. The judges, obviously, wanted to keep her up, since she was the defending World and Olympic champion.
School figures were eliminated from competition after the 1990 season, and probably nobody was happier about that than Midori Ito. Ito, who had won the 1989 World title, skated disastrous school figures at the 1990 Worlds and was buried in 10th place. I remember seeing a tracing of one of her figures – it was all over the place. She rebounded back, won both the short and long programs, and won t he silver medal. Had she finished 9th in the figures, she would have retained her title. Jill Trenary won her World title, thanks to her 1st place in the school figures.
Skaters had to spend hours skating patches, often before dawn, to learn to trace the school figures. I commend them for spending all of those hours over so many years. If there was any benefit, IMHO, it was that the skaters learned discipline, good carriage, and balance.
Last edited by SkateFan4Life; 10-22-2005 at 10:30 PM.
Most coaches mourn the passing of figures from a skater's training, as they were crucial in teaching good balance, & true edge technique. Many also say they played a part in keeping injuries down, as a skater spent much of their training day doing figures where as now, though they still skate the same amount of time, it's all freestyle.
Though I think it's good they were removed from competition, I do think they should have been kept in some fashion as part of the test structure. Moves in the field just don't produce the same qualities.
btw, many rinks/coaches still teach figures, though it's getting harder to find a judge/judges to be able to test them.
I agree with most of what has been written. I would like the school figures to be a requirement for skaters to get to the next level, at least in the beginning (may be juvenile) because of the benefits of doing them. School figures taught them precision, balance, how to use the correct edges. At one time there was a talk of bringing them back as a separate sport in the Olympics. Apparently it fizzled out. They could show a small part of it while covering the Olympics, without impacting the FS telecasts which take upto several hours. If school figures become a separate sport, we may see skaters spending time on it, because there still are skaters that do very well in this area of FS. My old rink used to have many patch sessions. I don't see it where I live now. Right now the rewards of doing figures are not so obvious, but if there are medals associated with them, people will get interested.
In my heart, I'm actually Canadian....
I feel it's all about the jumping. Since the jumps are what sells in skating, by and large, why should skaters be spending their time learning correct edging and technique (which figures teaches better than anything) when it cuts into their time trying to develop the first quintuple loop?? I remember a few years after the figures were abolished from competition, when the "new generation" came along that hadn't worked on them as much as the previous group of skaters (this was about '93), the jumps were great; the edging and stroking were atrocious. This has mercifully improved, but with a few exceptions, overall quality of skating BETWEEN JUMPS was a lot better 20, 30, 40 years ago.
Regarding Witt and the compolsuries: It always cracked me up that in non-Olympic years, she had to come from behind (sometimes from 4th or 5th) after the figures to win, but as soon as an Olympic year rolled around -- wow, she's top 3!! I still find that a bit suspect, which I feel in part may have something to do with why the figures are gone, too. No one ever saw the figures, so more deals could be made to hold people down or bring them up. And since we all know the ISU is oh so concerned about eliminating ANY hint of corruption whatsoever in the judging ranks.....
Why do they still call it figure skating, when there isn't figures anymore? It's more of free skating than figures. Figure skating today has more of an acrobatic flair than say the figure skating at Lake Placid (1980)just an example. Taking out the big jumps, are the figure skaters today better skaters than when they were doing the "figures"?
I would like to see school figures be part of the required training for developing young skaters, with perhaps some basic school figures tests that must be passed as they progress from juvenile, perhaps to intermediate or novice. I don't see the necessity of the skaters spending hours and hours for endless years on patches during the pre-dawn hours, but I do think that the school figures taught the young skaters good carriage, balance, and discipline.
Timothy Goebel would certainly have benefited from training with school figures. IMHO, he would have far, far better carriage and a straighter back, had he spent time mastering some of those figure eights.
I strongly disagree with this. Surya Bonaly trained under figures and competed with figures and she never attained proper carriage. I'm not saying that figures are useless, but skating with speed, proper carriage and extension aren't developed with figures. Figures train balance, edges and precision (tracing) and figures are done *slower* than freestyle. I'm not going to say that figures doesn't help, but I think that to force skaters to do them to perfection (like in the past) would be a serious step backward for skating. First of all, ice time is expensive. To master figures, you have to practice them at least 3 hours a day. Skating is exclusive enough without adding that cost. Second ever since figures were dropped, more countries have been participating in worlds and the GP. I think it's because the costs and ice time have significantly been lowered since dropping figures making the sport more accessible.
Originally Posted by SkateFan4Life
I like figures. I did them briefly in the early 90's when I started skating and I had a knack for them (per my instructor). I really enjoyed the quietness of patch sessions and the satisfaction of being able to look at my edges/markings. However I don't think it's realistic to insist that the sport go back to the past. I think the new COP system is forcing skaters to learn edges, turns etc within a freestyle setting.
~ Figure Skating Is My Passion ~
Figures basically disappeared from competive skating when more emphasis was put on jumping, particularly the quad for men. At one time figures were the deciding factor of the outcome of a competition. Which ever skater had the biggest lead in figures - no matter how poorly they skated in the free skate portion - they still won based on their finesse in figures.
Originally Posted by millie
So basically it was becoming more and more diffucult to explain to audiences why skater A who perhaps did a lack lustre skate, still came out ahead of skater b who brought the house down.
Also the general public was never interested in watching figures being traced. It's pretty dull stuff for the layman. Only skaters and their coaches really understood figures.
though figures are not part of competitive skating, they have not disappeared entirely. They are still taught here in Canada and are still considered an important part of skating. After all without figures, how could the sport be named figure skating? I used to figure skate when figures were the dominant part of the sport. They were very important and all skaters had to learn them.
I am not sure if skaters today gain the discipline that figures instilled in a skater - that could be lacking. However, as long as skaters are still learning the differences in the edges and edge control then nothing is really lost. Figures were unique and those who mastered them were indeed great figure skaters.
Goebel reached the novice level during the transitional period in the US when it was required to pass the third figure test before one could test to intermediate and novice freestyle (and intermediate and juvenile competitions still included figures). Thus, even if he never did any figures after he passed that third test, he certainly did more than some of the younger skaters who were never required to do any.
Originally Posted by SkateFan4Life
Some coaches still use them as learning tools, but it's not necessary to reach the same standards as when they were part of the competitions.
Some countries did not have test systems similar to those in the US and Canada. Skaters just learned the figures that they needed for competition when they reached those levels on the basis of their overall skating and results. The ISU has never mandated a test structure for individual federations (although they do have suggested tests for small federations that don't have their own test structure), so unless something is required for competition it would be impossible to standardize internationally.
There were plenty of skaters who were good at figures and not so good at freestyle who had worse posture than Goebel.
It's all about Plushenko.
That's interesting and I didn't know that, but you only needed to pass 3 figures tests? Intermediate is the fifth moves test now.
Originally Posted by gkelly
Originally when competition and testing started in the US there were just senior and junior levels, then around the 1930s they added novice, and the test requirements to compete at Nationals were different from those required for sectionals . . .
Then, as the number of skaters grew and the level of competition rose at the top levels, they kept adding lower levels to accommodate the increasingly larger number of skaters at the lower levels
From before I was skating in the 70s (I think it had been like this since the 60s) until the end of figures, the figure test levels were:
no test = no test or beginner
preliminary figure test = preliminary
1st test = competition levels were called "1st test" or "prejuvenile," but it wasn't a qualifying level and when the separate freestyle tests came in in the late 70s there wasn't a freestyle test at that level. So to move from preliminary to juvenile, a skater had to pass both the 1st and 2nd figure tests and then the juvenile freestyle test.
2nd test = juvenile
3rd test = intermediate
4th and 5th tests = novice
6th and 7th tests = junior
8th test = senior
In 1990-91 they separated the figures and freestyle competitions and test requirements for novice through senior, but skaters still needed to pass the 4th figure test before they could test novice freestyle (M. Kwan and M. Weiss were in that cohort -- I know Weiss tested and competed senior figures while he was doing junior freestyle). A couple of years later they dropped that requirement, so the 3rd figure test to get to intermediate was the highest required of elite freestyle competitors at the time Goebel and Lipinski were novices.
Then in 1994-95 the figure tests were separated at the lower levels as well and the Moves in the Field tests came in. It was at that point that prejuvenile was made an official test and (nonqual) competition level and that the pre-preliminary level was introduced.
1998-99 was the last year of regular figures competition in the US.
Other countries, of course, have different histories of figure requirements for testing and/or competition.
It's all about Plushenko.
One thing Alexei Urmanov says about figures is that they help the less talented. He believes that the most talented skaters will figure things out one way or another. However, the more mediocre ones need figures to teach them things like carriage and edge control.