Figure skating is so captivating that the wintry mainstay first appeared at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London and in Antwerp in 1920.
No event in the Winter Olympics is older than figure skating, as it has been around since Chamonix in 1924. But the sport is continually expanding at the Olympics, and 2014 is no different.
Traditionally at the Olympics, there are four figure-skating events: men's singles, ladies' singles, mixed pairs and ice dancing, the last of which was added at the 1976 Innsbruck Games. Sochi will introduce a team event to the program, so there will be more figure skating to watch than ever.
Here is a complete rundown of all the action on the ice:
Team Event: The team event will kick off the Sochi Olympics with the men's short program and the pairs short program on Feb. 6. Each individual element of the team competition will be explained below in the section dedicated to that event. Feb. 8 will see the ice dancing and ladies' short programs, plus the pairs free skate. The team event wraps up on the 9th with the men's, ladies' and ice dancing free programs.
Recall that Sochi is nine hours ahead of New York, so many sports will be taking place early in the day around 10 a.m. The NBC networks have the coverage.
Pairs: After a two-day break, the pairs short program takes place on Feb. 11 with the free program the next day. Mixed pairs is often the most captivating and impressive display as the two competitors look like gymnasts on skates. Essentially, pairs offer double the athleticism with the complication of coordination. So much can go wrong!
The short program requires a lift with a specified grip, at least a double-twist lift (or triple-twist), at least a double-throw jump, solo double- or triple-jumps, death spiral on a specified edge and a spin combination. It is timed and must come in under 2 minutes 50 seconds. Points are deducted for errors in form and execution, but awarded for degree of difficulty.
The free skate is the other day of pairs competition, and that tends to involve more personality and creativity. Due to something known as the "Zayak Rule," named for American Elaine Zayak, the amount of jumps are limited in the free program so as to help stress a wider range of technical elements. While fans love the sheer athleticism of jumps, the rule permits only two types of triple-jumps (or quadruple-jumps for men) and two double-axels per program. This is the case for the free program in all events.
Men's Singles: The men's competition comes next, with the short program on the 13th and the free skate on the 14th. The men's short-program must include these elements: double- or triple-axel jump, connecting steps into triple- or quadruple-jump, jump combination consisting of at least a double- and triple-jump, flying spin, sit spin, spin combination with a change of foot and a step sequence.
Ice Dancing: The most modern and entertaining event in a certain respect, ice dancing has been an Olympic event for just under 40 years. In the 2014 Games, it is the interlude between the conclusion of men's figure skating and the ladies' singles competition.
The short dance takes place on Sunday, Feb. 16, and the free dance is the next day. The ISU changed the format of the short dance recently, but it still consists of a required dance with specified elements and then an independently choreographed portion. Skaters can choose the music themselves, but the pace of the piece must correspond to the necessary rhythm for the dance.
Ladies Singles: The ladies' short program occurs on Feb. 19 with the free skate on the 20th. These are the days when international stars can be made overnight, and it is a fitting close to the medal events in figure skating.
The short program must include: a double- or triple-axel jump, connecting steps into a triple-jump, jump combination consisting of at least a double- and triple-jump, flying spin, layback spin, spin combination with a change of foot and a step sequence.
Gala Exhibition: The gala exhibition is the culmination of the sport's activities on Feb. 22. This one's just for show. The top five skaters or pairs in each event are on display, and they can let loose and show off their skills on their terms.
There are no judges and no rigorous requirements for the program. It's an exhibition that only serves to reinforce how incredible all of the athletes are. And in the exhibition, they usually choose better music.
Sean Hojnacki covers basketball and breaking news for Bleacher Report. He worked as a writer and copy editor during the 2012 Olympics and is covering the 2014 Games as well. He is fascinated by the biathlon. You can find him on Twitter.
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