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  • Writer's pictureBruin Sports Analytics

Performing Sports: An Analysis on Recent Trends of Figure Skating

By: Tianyi Su and Christine Ahn


Source: usfigureskatingfanzone.com

Introduction


Figure skating is one of the sport programs that requires not only athletic abilities but also artistic components. The sport was created in the 18th century and popularized in the Western world. The sport originally only focused on the artistic aspect, thus having the name “Ballet on ice.” However, in recent years, more athletes started to incorporate more athletic aspects into their programs. The first quadruple jump in the men’s single competition was landed in 1988 by a Canadian skater and the first quadruple jump in the women’s single competition was landed in 2002. Ever since then, more and more athletes have been attempting harder jumps. Athletes such as Yuzuru Hanyu, Ilia Mallinin, and Alexandra Trusova were relatively consistent with the quadruple jumps. 


In recent years, different voices have been arising, criticizing the heavy emphasis on the technical components in a competition. The critics state that with the increasing quadruple jumps in programs, figure skating is deviating from the original purpose of the sport. The critics especially criticized the Russian female skaters for incorporating the jumps. For our project, we wanted to dive into the recent competitions to see if the technical components mattered more than the artistry score. 


Methods: 


To accomplish our goal, we looked at the competitions in the years between 2010-2024 and specifically the two Olympic cycles (2018-2022 as these were the years where the Russian ladies dominated the women’s singles competition). We exclude the season of 2020 due to no competition during the Covid pandemic. We created linear models for the four world championships during the two cycles to look at the general trend within the men’s and women’s events and see if there is a significant pattern. Since there are two separate events in one competition, short program and freestyle program, we looked at the statistics in the two programs separately. We also included specific case studies for athletes who are known to score high scores in the field to further analyze the judging trend of recent years competitions. 


Overall Analysis


To look at the general trend of the competitions in the past two cycles, we extracted the top 10 skaters’ artistic and technical scores from the ISU websites and created linear models for them as shown in the graphs below. 



The above graphs are the technical scores (in red) compared with the artistry scores (in blue) for the top 10 male skaters at 4 different world championships during the two Olympic cycles. SP represents the short program while FS stands for the freestyle program. The y-axis is the ranking from 1 to 10 and the x-axis represents the score. 


From the graph, it can be seen that skaters focus more on technical elements (harder jumps and spins) in the short program rather than the artistic elements as the gap between scores are generally larger in the short programs. This gap is especially large during the year of 2022. This gap can be explained by the fact many male skaters (including Yuzuru Hanyu) with high-scoring artistry components withdrew from the competition. The remaining skaters focused more on quadruple jumps and other hard elements. We conducted a case study on Yuzuru Hanyu in the later section to look at the impact of his scores. It is also important to note that in the freestyle program, the last 5 skaters of the ranking tend to have similar artistic scores and technical scores whereas the top 5 men have a significant gap between the two segments. 


Next, we looked at the women’s competition to see if the patterns are consistent. 



Similar to the men’s competition, there is a gradual increase in the women’s technical scores as well. However, the increase is rather gradual. Women in the short programs tend to have a higher technical score than artistry scores while the scores in the free programs are much more consistent. In the year of 2018, the artistic components seem to weigh more in the free program than the technical program. It may be noteworthy to mention that there is a jump between the years of 2021 and 2022. This may be due to the withdrawal of the Russian female skaters due to the Russian-Ukrainian War. The Russian skaters are known to include hard technical elements such as the quadruple jumps and level 4 spins. We will discuss this further in our later case study section. 


To further examine the trend, we decided to look back into time and we plotted the gold medalists’ scores in the past 12 world championships. 


The above graphs are the short and freestyle program statistics for the men. As we can see, there is a general increasing trend in the technical score, whereas the artistic scores stayed about the same trend over the course of 12 years. We found out that the R value of the short program technical score is around 0.8275 with a p-value of 0.0026. The R value of the freestyle program technical scores is around 0.7499 with a p-value of 0.002. The R values suggest that the model has a pretty strong linear relationship while the p-values suggest that the findings are significant. The R values of the artistry scores for both short program and the freestyle program do not show obvious linear relationships. Therefore, we are able to conclude that over the years there is a statistically significant increase in the men’s technical scores. 

The above two graphs are the statistics of the women’s short program and freestyle program. We can see that there is also an increasing trend in the women’s technical score. However, unlike the stagnant trend of the artistry score in the men’s events, women’s artistic scores are also increasing over time. The R values of the women’s technical scores for both short and freestyle programs do not suggest linear relationships. However, the R value of the women’s artistry scores for the short program is around 0.8326 with a p-value of 0.0002. For the freestyle program, the R value is around 0.7638 with a p-value of 0.0015. Therefore, we are able to conclude that there is an increasing trend of artistic scores for the women’s field. Since there is a discrepancy between the men’s programs and the women’s programs, we can deduce that in the women’s field, judges may prioritize artistry more than technical scores, especially in the free program.


Case Studies


Russian ladies in the leaderboard


Through the investigation of the competition scores, we find that the composite scores in the women’s field were higher when the Russian skaters were in the competition. This trend can be seen by the line graphs and the linear graphs in the sections about the women’s scores. In the linear plots, we can see there is an increase in scores from years 2018-2021 as the top three skaters in the competition in 2019 and 2021 were all Russian skaters or under a Russian coach (the silver medalist for the 2019 world championship was from Kazakhstan but trained under the Russian coach Eteri Tutberidze). There is a larger gap between the technical scores and the artistic scores in these years as well. We can conclude that in the years 2019 and 2021, there was a heavy emphasis placed on technical scores rather than artistic scores by the Russian ladies. 


Looking at the line chart with the gold medalists among the ladies, there are a few interesting observations. The peaks of both the ladies short program and freestyle program happen to be in the years of 2017 and 2019 (with the peak in ladies short program in 2015 as well). The gold medalists for these years were all Russian athletes. In addition, we can see the high scores are pretty consistent through the years 2017-2021 except the dip in 2018 in both events where the gold medalist was a non-Russian skater. In addition, we can see a decreasing trend in the scores after starting the year of 2022. This can be explained by the competition ban on the Russian skaters due to the war. Furthermore, in recent years, the gap between the technical score and the artistic score has been closing up in the freestyle program as the non-Russian skaters focus more on the artistry of the program than their Russian counterparts in the prior years. 


Yuzuru Hanyu, Kaori Sakamoto, Ilia Malinin Analysis


We also wanted to conduct an analysis on specific figure skaters: Yuzuru Hanyu, Kaori Sakamoto, and Ilia Malinin. We decided on these three figure skaters for their notable contributions as Yuzuru Hanyu is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Kaori Sakamoto is the current reigning world champion (x3), and Ilia Malinin as the first man to complete the quadruple axel. 


To analyze their technical scores and artistic scores, we gathered data from the past two Winter Olympic cycles (2022 and 2024) for Yuzuru Hanyu and Kaori Sakamoto, and for Ilia Malinin we used the past two years (2023 and 2024) of the World Championships data due to Malinin not participating the Olympics for the past two cycles. The linear model is shown below:



The graph shows the solid lines are the technical scores throughout the two competing cycles and the dashed lines represent the artistic scores for the respective skaters. Through these two graphs for the free skate and the short program of these three skaters we can see that their technical scores have been consistently higher in both the free skate and the short program for their respective competing cycles. We can also see that for the short program the gaps between the technical score and the artistic score are much larger, especially for Hanyu and Malinin where they have greater than a ten-point gap between their technical and artistic score. This could indicate that the judges may have a stronger focus on the technical components of a performance.


Furthermore, we wanted to see if there was a relationship between the technical score versus the total score and the artistic score versus the total score for the free skate component. We calculated the correlation coefficient of the technical element score and the total score to be 0.98 which was slightly higher than the correlation coefficient of the program component score (artistic score) and the total score which was 0.89. Although, note that the values of the correlation coefficient could be inflated due to a lack of data points that were used in this specific analysis as we only analyzed three skaters. However, it is worth noting for further

exploration.



Conclusion


It can be seen through our analysis that technical components tend to have more weight towards the final composite scores for the skaters during their competitions. We can see that the sport of figure skating is slowly changing from an artistic sport to a sport that purely shows off the athletic skills that the skaters possess. This is not always the case. From our overall analysis, we can see there is a clear gap between the men’s and the women’s scores as the judges in the women’s field seem to focus on the artistic scores more. The sport may have a subtle bias as the judges have different expectations in the women’s field than the men’s. On the other hand, some male skaters may also have high artistry scores. Our case study shows that Yuzuru Hanyu’s programs have a relatively even split between the technical elements and the artistic elements. However, Hanyu retired after the 2022 Winter Olympic, leaving the men’s group with no other competitor who has an even split between the two categories. With this in mind, it raises the question: has figure skating deviated from its artistic origins and what will be the future of figure skating scoring as rules and judge biases change? Will the programs of “Ballet on ice” slowly transition into a jumping competition in the future?


Bibliography


Olympic Regional Development Authority. “The Origins and Evolution of Figures and Figure Skating,” September 26, 2023. https://orda.org/2023/09/26/origins-and-evolution-figure-skating/#:~:text=Then%20in%2018th%20Century,ice%20skating%20is%20available%20online..


skatingscores.com. “Skating Scores: Latest Figure Skating Results, Scores, Rankings & Statistics,” n.d. https://skatingscores.com/.


Wikipedia. “Quadruple Jump,” December 1, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadruple_jump.

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