Wednesday, 7 Apr 2021

Figure Skating – Sport or Art?

Figure skating is one of those activities that falls into the middle ground between art and sport. The people who do it are no doubt athletes, with the long hours they work, and the physical strength required to pull off the complicated routines. However, these routines are also performed, using music, and they are partly judged on artistic merit.

This duality of physical prowess and artistic interpretation in the presentation of the work has caused a long-raging debate. Is figure skating a sport or is it an artform?

The Scoring

Similar to events like high diving and gymnastics, figure skating is scored based on technique. The ability to complete set moves is given a score by the judges. Each routine has to include set elements and the extra elements added to the routine give it an overall difficulty score. The skater is then judged on how well those moves are accomplished on the ice. This gets very technical and can make or break a competition for a skater.

In addition to judging how well spins and jumps are executed, each routine is also scored based on the presentation and performance. A routine needs to be set to music and the skater must apply unique choreography that gives them transitions between the technical moves. The judging is done based on how neatly those transitions are done, how the choreography fits with the music, and how the general presentation of the piece is accomplished.

Dictionary Definitions

With this activity being scored based on both physical prowess and artistic presentation, it can be easy to see why so many people question what figure skating really is. Many people think it belongs just as a form of entertainment, like the Ice Capades. However, there are many that think it is one of the toughest sports at the Winter Olympics and the artistic component of the score should be done away with.

If you look at the definitions of the words sport and art, you can see that both really can be applied to figure skating. Sporting activities are defined by the physical exertion required to accomplish the activity and that competitions of those activities are meant for public entertainment. Physical artistic endeavors are defined as creative expression of self. By these definitions, figure skating simply is both art and a sport.

The Question Of Judged Sports

The concern from some is that an activity like figure skating in the Olympics is not judged fairly. There is a subjective component to the judging, which means that things are open for interpretation. In sports like hockey or soccer, there is a scoring system that the players themselves are in charge of and the end score determines the winner. In racing, the person who crosses the finish line first is the winner. This is empirical and difficult to argue with the results.

Sports like gymnastics, horse jumping, synchronised swimming and ski jumping all include the same subjective element when it comes to judging the winner that figure skating has. It can be argued, that this muddies the water.