30 Of The Most Searched Questions About Figure Skating Answered

I thought it might be fun to mix things up a little and have a gander at 30 of the most searched questions about figure skating! Have a pressing question of your own about figure skating history? Follow along on social media and leave your questions in the comments.

Who invented figure skating?

Skating's roots trace back to centuries ago when ancient people strapped animal bones to their feet in the winter as a means of transportation for getting across the ice. With the invention of metal skates, skating became a popular recreational activity around the world over the years. There wasn't any one person who just woke up and said "I'm inventing figure skating today!" It was an evolution over time. That said, many agree that Jackson Haines was the first figure skater to really draw attention to the sport as the art form it is today. He has been hailed as The Father of Figure Skating.

Jackson Haines. Photo courtesy Jimmy Leiderman.

Is figure skating hard?

Absolutely and unlike a lot of other sports, it's not like riding a bicycle. If you don't use it, you lose it... quickly.

What is a Salchow jump named after?

The Salchow jump is named after its Swedish inventor, Ulrich Salchow. He won the gold medal in the first men's event at the Olympics in 1908. He was also the winner of ten World titles and later served as the President of the International Skating Union. Ironically, Salchow was far more famous in his time for his skill in figures than free skating.

LEARN MORE: Read about Ulrich Salchow in the feature "Figure Skating in the Edwardian Era".

How much does figure skating cost?

Figure skating is one of the most expensive sports out there. In addition to custom skates, coaches fees and ice time, elite skaters pay thousands of dollars for costumes, off-ice training, physiotherapy, travel, competition entry, membership fees etc. For many years, there were two types of figure skaters - amateurs and professionals. That line started to blur in the 1990s when the ISU Grand Prix, ISU Championships and pro-am competitions gave amateur skaters a chance to win prize money to defray costs not covered by their federations. The reality is that the sport isn't cheap. Many parents of young skaters, even at a lower level, have taken out second mortgages on their homes and gone through tremendous financial hardship to allow their children to continue in the sport they loved. I don't say that to scare people off. I do think it's important that people have realistic expectations going in though. There is far less money in the professional side of the sport than there once was, so people should temper their expectations coming in. Very few people go to the Olympics and very few make back a fraction of the money they put into the sport.

What is a Lutz jump named after?

The Lutz jump is named after its Austrian inventor, Alois Lutz. He had the misfortune of really being in his prime as a skater around the time of the first World War when major figure skating competitions were cancelled. He passed away at a young age. The fact he received credit as the inventor of the Lutz was probably because he skated at the Engelmann Rink in Vienna, which was a major hub for European figure skating at the time. Had he have skated out of a rink where there hadn't been as many eyes on him, someone else likely would have got the credit for inventing the jump.

LEARN MORE: Read about Alois Lutz and the history of the Lutz jump in "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps".

Is figure skating on TV today?

Not as much as it once was! A huge part of the reason that figure skating was so explosively popular in the 1980s and 1990s boiled down to the fact that it was on television all the time at a time when television was very popular. People didn't have a million choices like they do now and skating became must-see TV. Figure skating hasn't firmly established a presence on popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. 2024 was the first year in decades that the Canadian Championships were not televised in some form. TV may not be as popular as it once was, but millions still watch it - and they aren't finding skating on their screens far enough.

LEARN MORE: Learn about the broadcast history of figure skating in Kelli Lawrence's book "Skating On Air".

Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

When was ice dancing added to the Olympics?

There are two correct answers to this question - 1968 and 1976. Ice dancing was first introduced as a demonstration sport at the Grenoble Games in 1968, but the first official competition wasn't until the Innsbruck Games in 1976. The winners that year were the Soviet duo of Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov.

Do figure skaters get dizzy when they spin?

You can, but you get used to it. If you're into the science as to why, check out this great article from Scientific American.

Who was the first figure skater to do a backflip?

One of the first skaters purported to do a backflip on skates was a noted turn-of-the-century skater and dentist from Ottawa named Dr. Alexander Martin. Backflips started to become popular when ice revues exploded in popularity around the time of World War II. An American show act called The Hub Trio (Len and Kenneth Mullen and Eddie Raiche) included backflips in their performances. Kenneth was the first of the trio to do the backflip on the ice and he broke both his kneecaps the first time he tried it. Other skaters doing backflips around that time included Adele Inge, Skippy Baxter, Sally Richardson and The Kermond Brothers. 

LEARN MORE: Read Skate Guard blogs about The Hub Trio, Adele Inge and The Kermond Brothers.

1942 cartoon featuring Adele Inge

When was men's figure skating added to the Olympics?
When was women's figure skating added to the Olympics?
When was pairs figure skating added to the Olympics?

The answer to all three of these questions is 1908, the first time that figure skating competitions were held in conjunction with the Summer Olympics. The events were held at Prince's Skating Club in London, England - a facility that had ties to the suffragette movement in England.

Do figure skating judges get paid?

Figure skating judges are volunteers. When I was a judge and was travelling to test days and competitions, they would cover your mileage (gas). Sitting for hours on end can get very cold, very fast, and skating clubs always took amazing care of all of the judges, referees and accountants. You never went home hungry and there was always lots of hot coffee, tea, hot chocolate and homemade soup to keep you going.

Madge and Edgar Syers

What were the early rules of figure skating competitions?

In the 19th century, the rules of 'fancy skating' competitions varied from city to city, country to country and it wasn't uncommon for a lot of funny business to go on. School figures had a lot more value than free skating and skaters didn't just show up with their music on a thumb drive, because they weren't invented yet. At the turn of the century, the development of the International Skating Union helped bring some semblance of order to the judging of international figure skating competitions. The ISU published a list of approved judges and decided that all competitions had to have a referee and at least five judges. The skating association that hosted an ISU Championship had the right to have at least one judge. Six school figures were drawn for every competition, and if special figures were included in the competitions, skaters had to submit diagrams and descriptions to the judges ahead of time. In free skating, men's programs were five minutes long and women's and pairs four. Skaters were signalled to start their programs by the dropping of a flag and the minutes were called by the referee during a skater's free skating program. At the end, 'time' was called and if the music hadn't ended, it was stopped. Madge Syers suggested skaters always have "one or two items to spare" in case their program ran short, for skaters weren't permitted to stop skating until instructed by the referee. In an article penned for the "Badminton Magazine Of Sports And Pastime", Madge's husband Edgar described what a typical free skating program at the turn of the century looked like thusly: "The judges are ranged at intervals round the rink, the first competitor has called to the band for his favourite tune, generally a waltz, and his name and club having been announced, he bursts into the skating area... The entry is usually made at speed on a large and bold outside or inside spiral, the [astrachan] cap is removed in salute and held high above the head, the body erect, with a free and graceful carriage. When the spiral has been brought to a centre the cap is replaced, and the competitor proceeds to demonstrate his programme of free figures. The point chiefly aimed at is continuity; the skater should never be at fault, and one figure should merge into another almost imperceptibly. The figures should be as attractive as possible, and on no account should the skater introduce any of those contained in the compulsory list, but should aim at producing novel combinations and tours de force."

LEARN MORE: Learn about how figure skating competitions were judged in the early days in the feature "The Lost Years: Skating and The Great War".

What are the types of figure skating?

There's room for everybody in figure skating! If you'd rather go it alone, you can compete in singles, solo dance and interpretive and artistic events. Rather skate with a partner? You can do pairs, ice dance, or both! Prefer being part of a team? Take up synchro skating or theatre on ice. The possibilities are endless in the sport. Do what feels right for you or even better - learn what discipline is the right fit for you by trying more than one.

Surya Bonaly

Why was Surya Bonaly disqualified from the Olympics?

Oh boy... here we go. Surya Bonaly was not disqualified from the Olympics. In 1998, she decided to include a backflip in her performance, even though it was an illegal element, much like Adam Siao Him Fa did at the 2024 European and World Championships. She was not the first skater, nor the first woman, to do a backflip. She was the first to do one on one foot in a competition. The fact that she landed it on one foot was irrelevant, because it was still a banned element. The backflip was banned by the ISU in the 1970s after Terry Kubicka performed one in the Olympics. The reasoning behind the ban was not only safety-based, as one might guess. The ISU also considered the backflip to be an acrobatic stunt with no "aesthetic value." Surya Bonaly was a tremendous athlete and a trailblazer in the sport. That said, the impression given about her career by Buzzfeed/Vice-style articles and the "Losers" documentary you might have seen on Netflix is very much revisionist history in the same vein as "I, Tonya". There's nuance to most questions about the sport's history and that's something that gets completely lost in TikTok videos and articles written by outsiders to the sport.

LEARN MORE: Listen to Surya Bonaly's story in her own words on CBC's Players Own Voice podcast.

What are some of the most controversial moments in figure skating history?

It depends on who you ask and there are a lot of right answers to this question. In terms of events that really burst through the bubble and into the public consciousness, there's no denying that 1994 was a big year for skating controversy. You had the whole Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan scandal, Surya Bonaly refusing to wear the medal and stand on the podium at Worlds and some much-debated results in the ice dance event at the Olympics. The judging scandals surrounding the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City were pretty controversial too and to this day, people have some pretty strong opinions about the pairs event. The women's event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics also generated quite a bit of controversy as did, most recently, the doping scandal at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. Dozens more stories could easily be added to this list! 

LEARN MORE: Read about the judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Joy Goodwin's book "The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption and The Battle for Olympic Gold".

When did figures stop being a part of figure skating?

There's a whole book devoted to this subject - "The End of The Compulsories" by James R. Hines. If you can get your hands on a copy, I suggest you do. It's also a topic I talk about a lot in my upcoming book "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s". The answer is the 1989/1990 season... sort of. Well into the 1990s, figures were still a part of novice and junior competitions and even today, there are some wonderful efforts to keep this dying art alive. Ask your coach if they did figures and if they can teach you some - there's a lot you can learn from them!

Skippy Baxter

Who was the first person to land a triple jump?

Triple jumps may well be traced back to the 1930s. Canadian-born skater Skippy Baxter claimed to have performed the first triple Salchow in a competition in Los Angeles, California in 1939. His achievement was the subject of a Ripley's “Believe it or Not” cartoon. The first skater to land a triple jump (a loop) in an international competition was Dick Button, at the 1952 Winter Olympics and World Championships.

Who was the first skater to land a quad Axel?

Ilia Malinin.

How often are the World Figure Skating Championships?

Every year. The 2024 World Figure Skating Championships were held in March in Montreal. The 2025 World Championships will be held from March 24-30 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Why do figure skaters jump?

When I wrote my book "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps", this was actually a question that a sports history scholar asked when they reviewed the book. Being so entrenched in the sport, I found it a really unusual one. Do we ask why baseball players hit a ball or why hockey players shoot a puck in a net? Figure skaters jump because, for better or worse, jumping is a key aspect of the sport.

Can figure skating be self-taught?

I would never want to discourage someone from skating but you need to work with a qualified coach if you want to become a proficient skater. That's not optional. In the early days of the sport, there were many self-taught skaters who made it quite far in the sport... but that was before jumps and spins were really a thing like they are today. If you want to be the best skater you can be, find a coach whose teaching style matches your learning style that you can build a rapport with. Even if you can only afford a lesson here and there, coaches will help correct bad habits and teach important things like posture, edges, skating skills and correct body positions. Please don't try to teach yourself because you won't be the best skater you can be.

Victorian era skating fashions, circa 1874

How have figure skating costumes changed over time?

Tremendously and there's no short answer that can sum up all of the changes. If you look back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras, most women wore corsets, long gowns and hats, which would have been completely prohibitive in terms of movement. For decades, major figure skating competitions were held outdoors, so warmth was a huge factor in skating costume design because it had to be. Wool was popular. After the second World War, people didn't have a ton of money and you can see that when you look at many skating dresses in the late 1940s and 1950s. Over the years, stretchy materials have become the norm. As the sport became popular on television, the costumes became more theatrical. 

LEARN MORE: Read parts 1, 2 and 3 of "A Century of Figure Skating Fashion".

Are figure skating blades sharp?

They're knives, so yes.

Historical results showing Carl and Gustav Euler, winners of the Paarlaufen, zwei herren title (Two men pair skating)

Who was the Euler jump named after?

A pair of Austrian brothers named Carl and Gustav Euler, who won the same-sex pairs competitions held in conjunction with the 1900 European Championships in Berlin and 1901 European Championships in Vienna. Depending on who you ask, one of the brothers invented the half-loop jump or Per Thorén from Sweden invented it. The ISU decided to start calling the half-loop an Euler in June of 2018. We've never heard about the Euler brothers from the ISU because they don't have a historian anymore.

Can figure skaters be tall?

Of course they can! Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic Gold Medallist in men's figure skating, is over six feet tall. World Champion Eric Radford is six foot two. If anyone ever tells you you're too tall for skating or makes any sort of unwelcome comment about your body at all, tell them to go pound sand.

Robin Cousins

Who was the first figure skater to do the Iron Lotus?

That was a movie and no, that's not a thing. 

Who are some of the most famous figure skating coaches?

It depends on the era and which country you are talking about but I think some of the most famous coaches are the ones who have coached the most famous skaters. If you look back over the years, there have been hundreds of incredible coaches who have left their mark on the sport... many with very colourful stories of their own - think about names like Ellen Burka, Sheldon Galbraith, Frank Carroll, Brian Orser, Jutta Müller, John Nicks, Tamara Moskvina, Betty Callaway, Gladys Hogg, Carlo and Christa Fassi, The Gerschwiler Brothers, Maribel Vinson Owen, Mabel Fairbanks, Ron Ludington... the list is just tremendous.

Learn more: Read about trailblazing figure skating coach Mabel Fairbanks and learn who coached many of figure skating's greats!

Who is the most famous figure skater of all time?

This is a really hard question because it really depends on your age and where you're from. If you're in the UK, the answer's going to be Torvill and Dean. In North America - for all of the wrong reasons - it will probably be Tonya Harding. With the younger crowd, there's really not an interest in the sport's history so you'll probably get an answer of a skater who is still competing or only recently retired. If you're of a certain age, maybe that answer is Barbara Ann Scott or Sonja Henie. In Japan, the answer's probably Yuzuru Hanyu. To me "famous" says that skater has crossed over from being a star in the figure skating world to being well-known among the general public.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.