Program Components versus Presentation

by Sandra Loosemore
June, 2003


In a previous article on the new code of points judging system described in ISU Communication no. 1207, I stated that only three of the five subjective program components categories reflect criteria which are now considered under the presentation mark in the existing ISU rules, and that the "Skating Skills" and "Transitions" components contain criteria that are currently considered under the technical merit mark instead. In this article, I will back up this assertion by examining the five program components in more detail, and comparing them to the criteria for technical merit and presentation under the current rules.

The quoted material at the beginning of each section is taken directly from ISU Communication no. 1207. In addition to the ISU Special Regulations Figure Skating 2002, I have consulted two secondary sources for reference on the current rules:

Note: since the breakdown for ice dance is somewhat different, here I am concentrating on singles and pairs.

Skating Skills

Definition: Methods used by a skater/couple to create movement over the ice surface.

Purpose: To reward efficiency of movement in relation to speed, flow and quality of edge.


  • Overall skating quality
  • Multi directional skating
  • Speed and power
  • Cleanness and sureness of edges
  • Glide and flow
  • Balance in ability of partner (Pair Skating)

According to ISU Rule 322 paragraph 2, the criteria included under technical merit are:

In addition, Rule 322 paragraph 4 states that "All the elements of a free skating program (the jumps, spins, step sequences and particularly the glide, footwork and the difficulty and variety of the steps) must be taken into consideration in the mark for technical merit".

The USFSA judging manual, in discussing the "speed" component of the technical merit mark, says:

Skaters covering the ice with good speed will generally be awarded higher technical marks than their slower competitors who have comparable technical skills. Good stroking is achieved through proper technique and features pleasing upper body carriage and solid edges. Look for flow, power, swiftness, edge quality, and form.

From this it is evident that overall skating quality, speed and power, cleanness and sureness of edges, and glide and flow correspond to aspects of skating that are currently judged as technical merit, not presentation.

Multi directional skating is not explicitly addressed by the current ISU rules (either for technical merit or presentation), but it is closely related to variety and difficulty. For example, it is widely understood that including turns in both directions is more difficult than turning only in the skaters' preferred rotation direction.

Balance in ability in partner, for pair skating, might be considered an aspect of unison. The current ISU regulations do not mention this, although Rule 322 paragraph 6 says a serious imbalance in the physical characteristics of the partners which would result in a lack of unison must be reflected in the marks both for technical merit and presentation.


Definition: Skating steps/elements linking program highlights.

Purpose: To reward different steps, movements and elements linking and enhancing the program highlights so they become part of the program not just isolated elements.


  • Difficulty and quality of steps linking elements.
  • Creativity and originality of steps linking elements
  • Originality and difficulty of entrances and exits of elements
Moves in the Field, which are not integrated in one of the step sequence (Men Free Skating) will be considered under the "Transitions".

Rule 322 paragraph 4 states that "All the elements of a free skating program (the jumps, spins, step sequences and particularly the glide, footwork and the difficulty and variety of the steps) must be taken into consideration in the mark for technical merit". Moreover, Rule 320 paragraph 2 states that "the lack of connecting steps and other comparable free skating movements between the various elements" must be penalized in the mark for technical merit.

The USFSA judging manual, in discussing the "difficulty" component of the technical merit mark, says:

To differentiate between competitors, examine the difficulty of transitions from element to element. Connecting steps between elements add to the difficulty. Particularly consider the glide, the footwork, ice coverage, and the difficulty and variety of the steps in the mark for technical merit (SSR 4.18).

Examine the amount of time between major elements and the amount of time that the skater requires to set up each element. Strive to recognize those skaters who successfully link elements through connecting steps that help create a coherent program.

Skaters with smooth and efficient transitions from element to element have mastered the difficulty of their choreography and elements. However, this ease of transition from element to element can be deceptive as it may-on the surface- make the program appear to be easier than programs where the skater is making a visible effort to skate from one element to the next.

From this it is evident that, under the current ISU rules, the difficulty, variety, and quality of transitions and linking elements, and the entrances and exits to elements, are judged as part of the technical merit mark.

The current ISU rules don't address creativity and originality of connecting steps in particular. "Originality" in general is listed as a presentation criteria, but both the USFSA and Skate Canada judging materials on the presentation mark break this down into originality of movement, originality of program concept, and originality of choreography; perhaps only originality of movement is relevant here, but where would originality of movement in elements other than transitional steps -- such as unusual spin positions or lifts -- be rewarded?


Definition: The evaluation of the skater's/couple's ability to exhibit a pleasing appearance through body awareness and projection.

Purpose: To reward the skater's/couple's ability to demonstrate body line, carriage and balance while executing element highlights.


  • Carriage
  • Style
  • Body alignment
  • Variation of speed
  • Unison (Pair Skating)

Carriage and style and variation of speed are explicitly listed as components of the presentation mark in the current ISU regulations (Rule 322, paragraph 3).

"Body alignment" is not explicitly mentioned in the ISU regulations, but it's clearly related to carriage and style. The Skate Canada judging materials make reference to "proper alignment" in this context, while the USFSA judging manual discusses "body control", such as not breaking at the waist.

As noted previously, the current ISU regulations include unison among the criteria for both the technical merit and presentation marks for pair skating. Indeed, the USFSA judges manual for pairs describes unison as the primary foundation of pair skating and "the fundamental component of both the technical merit and presentation marks". Relegating unison to only one of the five program components marks means that it is being substantially devalued compared to the current ISU rules.


Definition: The evaluation of the program layout in relationship to elements and their linking steps. Program highlights should be evenly distributed over the ice surface demonstrating the skater's/couple's skills.

Purpose: To reward the skater(s) that utilizes the entire ice surface and different levels of space around the skater(s).


  • Harmonious composition of the program
  • Conformity of elements, steps and movements to the music
  • Originality, difficulty and variety of program pattern
  • Distribution of highlights
  • Utilization of space and ice surface

In Rule 322 paragraph 3, the current ISU regulations include harmonious composition of the program as a whole and its conformity with the music chosen, and utilization of the ice surface and space as components of the presentation park.

Distribution of highlights is part of utilization of the ice surface. This is addressed in Skate Canada's discussion of the "use of the ice surface" component of the presentation mark:

A program should cover the entire ice surface, using a variety of patterns, directions and levels (low, medium and high). Skaters should avoid programs which rely heavily on circular and straight-line patterns. Highlights should be distributed evenly over the entire ice surface (i.e. not all in between the two blue lines, nor in one or the other end zone).

Originality of the program pattern is not addressed explicitly under the current ISU rules. As noted previously, originality in general is considered a presentation criteria which encompasses originality of movement and originality of program theme as well as originality of choreography. It is not clear where these other aspects of originality would be rewarded in the new judging system.


Definition: The use of the body and skating elements to express outwardly the mood and character of the chosen music.

Purpose: To reward the skater(s)/couples who express the mood, emotions, and character of the music by using technical elements, linking steps and choreography as a result of the music's structure.


  • Easy movement and sureness in time to the music
  • Finesse, and nuances of the musical phrases
  • Expression of the music's style and character
  • Maintaining the character and style of the music throughout the entire program

In Rule 322 paragraph 3, the current ISU regulations include easy movement and sureness in time to the music and expression of the character of the music as criteria which are judged under the presentation mark.

"Finesse, and nuances of the musical phrases" are not explicitly addressed by the ISU Rules. Probably this is closely related to "expression of the character of the music"; for instance, Skate Canada's materials on this aspect of presentation say:

Judges assess whether the skater demonstrates an understanding of the character of the music and uses the whole body in order to interpret the chosen music theme. Judges must determine whether the choreography is being performed because that is what the coach has indicated should be done at certain points in the program, or whether the program is skated with feeling. Choreography and movement should be inspired from within.


By comparing the definitions provided in Communication No. 1207 with the language of the current ISU Regulations and the training materials provided by the USFSA and Skate Canada, we can see that the "Skating Skills" and "Transitions" program components from the new judging system correspond closely to technical merit components from the current system, while "Performance/Execution", "Choreography", and "Interpretation" correspond primarily to criteria currently judged as part of the presentation mark. However, some of the program components criteria listed in Communication No. 1207 do not correspond directly to criteria listed in the current ISU Regulations for either technical merit or presentation, and vice versa.

As I noted in my previous article, the code of points system is already skewed to weight the total element score more heavily than the sum of the five program components scores. Since only three of the five program components reflect performance aspects which comprise the presentation mark under the current ISU rules, this means that under the code of points system, the performance aspects which currently make up the presentation mark will be seriously underweighted compared to the existing ISU rules, where presentation not only carries 50% of the total mark but is also used as the tie-breaker in free skating. Since presentation carries so little weight in the code of points system, if this system is adopted in its current form we are likely to see skaters also treating style, musical interpretation, choreography, and unison as being of marginal importance compared to "big tricks". This paints a depressing image of the future of the sport.

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