Compulsory figures or school figures were formerly an aspect of the sport of figure skating, from which the sport derives its name. Carving specific patterns or figures into the ice was the original focus of the sport. The patterns of compulsory figures all derive from the basic figure eight. Although figures no longer exist in competition, they have evolved into the contemporary moves in the field (MIF) discipline of figure skating.
Compulsory figures in competition
Until 1947, competitors at figure skating events were required to skate a total of twelve figures (six different figures skated on both feet) which were worth 60% of the total score. With the increasing number of entrants, figures competitions (which were then skated outdoors) began to take a very long time, so in 1948 the number of figures was reduced to six (alternating left and right foot starts) while retaining their weight at 60%. This competition format continued until 1968.
Pressure to reduce the weight of compulsory figures began when the Olympic Games and other skating competitions began to be widely shown on television. Television coverage posed major problems to the compulsory figures for two reasons. They were not considered appealing to television audiences, with even the most ardent skating fans finding the completion of the figures, followed by seemingly microscopic analysis by the judges, to be tedious, and the general public held even less interest for the figures. In addition, skaters who excelled at compulsory figures were often not the most talented at free skating, but sometimes accumulated such a large lead from the school figures that they won the competitions overall. Such results would often leave general viewers stunned because they had watched only the free skating and had little or no knowledge of the compulsory figures.
A reform was undertaken to put more emphasis on the free skating. The first step was taken in 1968, when figures were reduced to 50% of the total score. In 1973, the number of figures was reduced from six to three, and a new segment, the short program, was added to competitions. Seen as something intermediate between the full free skating program of four or five minutes and the compulsories, this two-minute program incorporated certain required elements of the free program which were judged on their technical merits. The short program combined a sense of mandatory elements and a presentation that could be of interest to a television audience and paying live spectators. The short program added more "watchable" activity to a figure skating competition, and was considered by most to be hugely successful.
|"In my opinion, the quality of skating itself (not jumping) has gone down. Figures taught how to use edges, like Robin Cousins and Brian Boitano still do, that with a couple of pushes they can get across the whole rink, you don't see that with the new skaters."|
|—1984 Olympic bronze medalist Jozef Sabovčík speaking in 2003 on the effect of the elimination of figures.|
From the 1973 to 1975 seasons, the weights of compulsory figures, short program, and free skating were 40%, 20%, and 40%, respectively. From 1976 to 1988, this changed to 30%, 20%, and 50%; and then to 20%, 30%, and 50% in the 1989 and 1990 seasons. Compulsory figures were eliminated entirely from international competition after 1990. European nations voted in favor of abolition mostly due to less practice ice being available for figures in Europe, while the United States and Canada opposed the decision.
Opponents of figures said they held back talented skaters such as Janet Lynn and Midori Ito, while supporters said they instilled discipline and produced higher quality of basic skating technique.
Today, compulsory figures are no longer a major competitive event and few competitive skaters have the interest to learn how to do them. Some adult recreational skaters, however, still find pleasure in the control and mental stamina required to master figures and the Ice Skating Institute (ISI) still holds competitions and events that require multiple levels of proficiency. Compulsory figures also remain a part of artistic roller skating.
Compulsory figure terminology
Figures are composed of either two or three circular lobes. The simplest figure, the circle eight, consists of a circle skated on an edge on one foot tangent to another circle skated on the corresponding edge on the other foot. The place where the circles meet is called the center, and a line through the center of the circles is called the axis or long axis. The change of foot at the center is accomplished by a thrust from the former skating foot onto a strike by the new skating foot at the point of intersection of the two circles (the short axis).
The most basic three-lobed figure is the serpentine, skated by doing half a circle on the middle lobe and a change of edge on the same foot to complete the full circle at the end; and then repeating on the other foot to complete the figure. Variations on the three-lobed figures include placing a rocker or counter turn at the centers instead of a simple change of edge, or combining a change of edge with the turns in the ordinary two-lobed figures.
A paragraph figure is an advanced two-lobed figure skated entirely on one foot, with a change of edge at the center. The entire figure is then repeated on the other foot over the original tracing.
Most figures are skated on circles about three times the skater's height. However, a special class of figures, the loops, are done on much smaller circles, about five feet in diameter – approximately the height of the skater. Here the skater curves sharply inward at the top of the circle to make a teardrop-shaped loop tracing about a blade-length wide (similar to a limaçon with an inner loop). The basic loop is a two-lobed figure, but like the other two-lobed figures it also has more difficult serpentine and paragraph variants.
Practice of compulsory figures is sometimes referred to as "patch" because each skater is assigned a defined area (or patch of ice) on which to skate.
Classification of compulsory figures
Figures were formerly identified by these numbers in the rulebook. Note that each figure has several variants depending on which foot, edge, and direction is used to start the figure.
- [1-4] Circle Eight
- [5-6] Serpentine
- [7-9] Three
- [10-13] Double Three
- [14-17] Loop
- [18-19] Bracket
- [20-21] Rocker
- [22-23] Counter
- [24-25] One Foot Eight
- [26-27] Change Three
- [28-29] Change Double Three
- [30-31] Change Loop
- [32-33] Change Bracket
- [34-35] Paragraph Three
- [36-37] Paragraph Double Three
- [38-39] Paragraph Loop
- [40-41] Paragraph Bracket
In an apparent attempt to make figures more interesting, the Ice Skating Institute includes in its highest test level a number of figures from outside the ISU standard rulebook:
- "Rocker Double Three" is essentially a "rocker" (ISU 20-21) with "double-three" (ISU 10-13, 28-29, 36-37) outer lobes
- "Paragraph Bracket Loop," is a figure with a one full-size lobe, with a bracket turn, and one loop-size lobe, with a loop
- "Loops to the Outside" has two loop-sized lobes (with the loops skated outside the lobes instead of inside) on either end of a full-sized central lobe
- "The Flower," which has four loop-sized lobes (again, with the loops on the outside of the lobes) enclosed (at the 0, 90, 180, and 270 degree points) within a large outer lobe, with alternating three and bracket turns (at the 45, 135, 225, and 315 degree points).
The ISI has also offered "creative figure" and "free figure" events, in which the skaters skate figures of their own design (which must be submitted to the judges in advance, on paper). They differ from each other mainly in judging emphasis.
In ISI testing and competitions, figures are treated as completely separate and independent events from free-skating events, with their own separate test levels and awards. There is no requirement for ISI skaters to enter both free-skating events and figure events, and relatively few do so.
Further ISI-Specific figure information, including diagrams of ISI-specific figures, can be found in the ISI Skaters & Coaches Handbook, available at many ice rink shops, and also directly from the ISI.
Judging of compulsory figures
The criteria that are used to judge figures include:
- The circles must be perfectly round, without wobbles, flats, bulges, or curling inward.
- All the circles in the figure must be the same size.
- The turns on a figure must be lined up with the central axis, and the circles themselves must also all line up.
- The turns must be symmetrical in shape and executed on true edges without scraping or "flats".
- Loops should be shaped like loops, and not be circular or pointed.
Judges normally stand on the ice, off to one side, to watch the execution of the figure. When the skater has finished, the judges typically check the alignment of the figure from different angles, peer closely at the tracings of the turns, and pace off the diameters of the circles to check their sizes.
Equipment for compulsory figures
Somewhat paradoxically, compulsory figures require a blade that is less sharp than that used for free skating in order to achieve finer control over the edges and turns. A figure sharpening has a shallower hollow, which prevents accidental "flats" caused by touchdown of the other edge. Blades for compulsory figures don't need the large toe picks necessary for jumping, so blades made specifically for skating compulsory figures have toe picks that are smaller and sometimes placed higher on the front of the blade than free skating blades; this helps the skater avoid accidentally dragging the toe picks on the ice. Compulsory figures also do not require the extremely stiff boots used in free skating to support the foot and ankle on jumps. When compulsory figures were a regular part of competition, many skaters simply recycled their old worn-out "freestyle" boots and blades for figures by grinding down the bottom toe pick and having the blades sharpened for figures.
A device called a scribe – essentially, a large compass – is commonly used as an aid for learning and practicing figures. It is used to lay out the initial shape of a figure and to check the shape and size of circles already skated, and as a straightedge to check the alignment and placement of the turns. However, scribes are not permitted in competition, nor may skaters rely on painted markings on the ice (such as hockey circles, the red line, or the blue lines) to align their figures.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Compulsory figures.|
- Johnson, Susan A.: "And Then There Were None". Skating, March/April 1991.
- Evaluation of Errors in Figures, 6th edition. USFSA, 1964.
- ISI Skaters & Coaches Handbook (formerly titled ISIA Test Standards), ISI, frequently revised. Descriptions of ISI Figure 10 figures based on the 1987 edition.
- USFSA figure tests
- It's Compulsory, but Is It Necessary? : For Now, Tedious Competition Counts; Debi Thomas Takes Lead