Figure Skating: A Data Breakdown

There’s an interesting trend in figure skating. Both the singles men and women divisions are scored using the same point system—as in the same moves are worth the same points for both men and women. Yet the average total score for male figure skaters is always around 80 points higher.

For example, in the 2022 Winter Olympics, the average score for the top three male figure skaters was 311.83:

The average score for the top three female figure skaters was 246.94.

That’s a 64.89 point difference! So, why the gap?

It comes down to the jumps. The fan favorite maneuvers are a staple of the sport, and no easy feat. They consistently make up the majority of an athlete's score. The way figure skating scoring works, even poorly executed jumps with greater rotations can earn more points than perfectly performed ones of fewer rotations. So athletes are always attempting the difficult and high-scoring triple and quadruple jumps.

That means different things for male and female skaters.

In fact, the top three men (Chen, Kagiyama, and Uno) attempted a total of 34 quad jumps during the 2022 Olympic comptetition, and the top three women (Scherbakova, Trusova, and Sakamoto) performed a combined 7. Expanding on this discrepancy, since 2003, there have been more than 100 male figure skaters to attempt a quadruple jump in a major international competitions. In contrast, there have been only 9 female skaters to do the same.

Does this mean that men are just better figure skaters? No, not exactly. It's a function of the physical differences between the sexes. In an interview with the Scientific American, exercise science and athletic training professor Deborah King explained that, "Generally, you’re seeing just the differences in muscle mass between male and female skaters...if you look at the bell curves of strength and power... Most of the male skaters are jumping a little higher than the female ones, and most of them are likely going to be able to generate more rotational momentum coming off the ice."

With less muscle mass, many female skaters rely on a low bodyweight in order to achieve more height, and consequently more rotations, in a jump. King said in the interview, "In terms of women, you see lot of skaters hitting their jumps before puberty. It can be particularly hard for female skaters when they go through puberty because changes in your body size and shape make you have to relearn your jumps."

This idea is evidenced in the average age of skaters to perform quads in major international competitions. The top 50 male skaters to perform a quad have an average age of much lower than the seven female skaters' average age of 17 years. The urge to earn more points and win medals often means pushing one's body very hard at a very young age.

As of right now, the minimum age to compete at the international senior level in women's figure skating is 15 years old. However, the International Skating Union is looking to change that. At their meeting next month, the organization will vote on a proposal to rage the age minimum requirement to 17 years old by the 2024-25 season.

The New York Times reported on a statement from the Norwegian Skating Federation that was included in the proposal, articulating that "Between 1994 and 2018, five Olympic gold medalists in women’s skating were between the ages of 15 and 17; all of them retired either just before or right after the world championships the following season."

The hope is that with the increased age minimum, atheletes will avoid physical harms in their youth and also develop a sustainable, longer-lasting career in the sport. The ISU detailed that in a survey conducted by the ISU Athletes Commission, "82.6% of all respondents supported raising the age limits." The proposal is likely to pass, and many believe this is a positive turning point for the sport.