The ISU Judging System: A Primer

We’re bringing back the #yoiconph2017 blog, just in time for World 2017, Men’s SP with this quick guide to the ISU Judging System by Judith! Find a working stream here!


For some figure skating viewers, there comes a time when they question why a skater got on the podium and another didn’t, why their favorite who skated a clean program did not win over someone who fell, and why someone who had more difficult jumps didn’t win over someone who “just skated nicely”.

Of course, the sensible course of action is to look at the scorecard in hopes of finding answers…

…only to find a pile of skating jargon and numbers that don’t seem to make sense.

What in quadnation are these dang letters and numbers.

In the hopes of making things a bit easier to understand, here’s a breakdown of the components in an ISU event scorecard.

Note: This is not a catch-all explanation for the judging system and only serves as a primer. More complicated terminologies such as underrotations, edge calls and invalid elements will not be covered.


SUMMARY

This contains the basic information about the skater: name, country represented, when they skated, their total score (including any deductions), the summary of the Technical Element Score (TES), Program Component Score (PCS), and if they had any deductions. Simple enough, right?

Until we get to the TES.


Is… is that a CCSp2?! Fix your levels, Katsuki-senshu.

TECHNICAL ELEMENTS SCORE

The TES for the short program consists of the required elements, their corresponding base value and the scaled grade of execution (GOE) based on the judges’ assessment. These are then added up to determine the technical score of the skater.

  • Executed elements – there are seven for the Men’s discipline: three jumps (one of which has to be a combination of two jumps), three spins and one step sequence.
    • Anything with a number in the beginning is a Jump, with the number indicating the number of rotations per jump. The letter after it indicates the type of jump – check them out here.
    • StSq stands for Step Sequence, with the number at the end indicating its level (where 4 is the highest). This level is determined by the technical panel based on the complexity of the moves within the step sequence.
    • Anything with Sp indicates a Spin. There are many variations, and once again its level is determined by the technical panel (with 4 once again being the highest level that can be awarded).
  • Base Value – each element has an assigned base value or default number of points. This is why quads are important for men; it’s getting harder and harder to get on the podium without it. Moreover, the x beside the element indicates a +10% added to its base value because it was skated during the second half of the program. This is awarded exclusively to jumps.
  • GOE and J1 to J9 – these stand for Grade of Execution and Judges 1 to 9*, respectively. The judges’ job is to assign a GOE per element based on the skater’s performance, with +3 as the highest and -3 as the lowest. The highest and lowest GOE per element are removed and they average the remaining seven to get the final GOE. These values are scaled, meaning a +3 GOE does not necessarily merit a +3 on the scorecard; a smaller base value merits a smaller maximum GOE.
  • Scores of panel – this is the combined score of the base value and GOE. They are then added up to determine the TES.

For the full list of elements and their corresponding base and scaled values, click here.

* Not all events have 9 judges; some have as little as 5, in which case none of the GOEs are taken out.


“Even if there’s only one quad, get a perfect score on the program components!” – Victor Nikiforov

PROGRAM COMPONENT SCORE

A lot of people tend to focus more on the TES than PCS, but the PCS is something that could make or break a skater’s score. Moreover, the PCS is an indication of how holistic a skater’s program is. The judges rate each category from 0.25 to 10, with 0.25 being the lowest and 10 as the highest.

  • Skating skills – focuses on the precision of the skater. Do they look like they’re gliding on the ice or stomping on it? How precise are their movements? Do they skate fast and yet look effortless or always look rushed and uncoordinated? How often do they skate on just one foot?
  • Transitions – focuses on how “full” the program looks. Do they just skate from one end of the rink to the other before performing their elements? If they fill their program with transitions such as spirals or split jumps, are their movements varied and complicated but still cohesive?
  • Performance – focuses on the skater’s personality on the ice. How connected is the skater to the program? Are they fierce/sassy/gentle when the program calls for it? How well can they project their emotions on the ice?
  • Composition – focuses on the choreography. How well do the movements match the music? Do they encompass the whole ice or just half of it? How boring or fresh is the program? Due to these factors, the choreographer’s job is important. No matter how talented a skater is both technically and artistically, a badly-designed program can negatively affect the composition.
  • Interpretation of the Music – focuses on the skater’s relationship with the music. How synchronized are their movements? Are their actions rhythmically sound? Do their movements match the grace or strength of the music?

For the full description of how program components are graded, click here.

So how does the Factor – well, factor into all this? The factor serves as the multiplier for the PCS. For Men’s senior events, the short program has a factor of 1.0, making 50 the maximum score they can receive.

DEDUCTIONS

Deductions are “awarded” to skaters with flawed programs; it’s most commonly given when a skater falls on their knees or butt during a jump, but it can also be given for not starting and ending in time with the music, skaters stopping in the middle of their program, and fallen accessories from their costume, among others.


LONG PROGRAM/FREE SKATE

The judging works the same way for the free skate, with a couple of notable differences:

  • Instead of 7 elements, there are 13: 8 jumps (with two jumps in combination), 3 spins, 1 step sequence, and 1 choreographic sequence (ChSq).
  • The factor is raised to 2.0 since it’s a longer program, making the maximum PCS score a 100.

The judging system can be unnecessarily complicated, so I hope this managed to make things a little easier to understand. Still confused about some things? Sound off in the comments!

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