Figure Skating at the Special Olympics

Written By: Riedell | October 2, 2023

Figure skating is a challenging and exciting sport where individuals, pairs, or groups perform spins, jumps, footwork, and other intricate moves on ice skates. It’s a sport that combines athleticism with grace and sportsmanship with competitiveness. People of all ages and abilities can enjoy the benefits of competitive figure skating through different avenues.

Special Olympics figure skating was established in 1977. Skaters compete at various levels, ranging from beginner all the way up to the Olympic (senior) level. They can compete at local, national, and international competitions. 

While this category has been around for many decades now, it has only recently begun to grow in popularity. Special Olympics figure skating has grown by 40% between 2005 and 2011. Increased interest in the sport validates what a positive experience it is for those wishing to engage in a highly physically and mentally rewarding sport.

Special Olympics Figure Skating Levels

Just like traditional figure skating, there are a variety of Special Olympics figure skating levels and events. There are six events in Special Olympics figure skating, including:

  • Singles Competitions
  • Pair Skating
  • Ice Dancing
  • Unified Sports Pairs Skating
  • Unified Sports Ice Dancing
  • Unified Sports Synchronized Skating

Each event has its own set of levels that athletes can compete at. Skaters must go through the badge program where they learn each level, beginning at the first. Levels become increasingly more challenging as they go and build upon the moves learned in the previous levels. When an athlete is able to perform all the moves in their badge program, they can then participate in competitions at that level.

Most of these events have 6 levels, but there are a few exceptions. Pairs and Unified pair skating have three levels, and Unified Sports synchronized skating has two levels.

Special Olympics Figure Skating Rules

The goal of Special Olympics figure skating is to provide all athletes with an opportunity to compete and enjoy the variety of benefits that mastering a popular sport like figure skating will provide. Some accommodations and special rules have been put in place for Special Olympics figure skating to help give athletes the encouragement and resources needed to succeed. 

Many rules are dependent on which event and level an athlete is competing at. Whether you’re a coach or parent of an athlete, it’s important to familiarize yourself with these rules to help give skaters guidance when needed and to prepare them for what will be expected during competitions.

Here are some of the Special Olympics figure skating rules you’ll need to be aware of:

  • Singles Skating: Level I, Level II, Level III- A Freeskate Program must be skated to music. Level IV, Level V, Level VI- A Freeskate Program and a Short Program must be skated to music.
  • Pair Skating & Unified Pair Skating: Level I, Level II- A Freeksate Program must be skated to music. Level III- A Freeskate Program and a Short Program must be skated to music.
  • Ice Dance & Unified Ice Dance: Level I to VI- Two Pattern Dances must be skated to music. Coaches are not allowed on the ice during official practices at World Games.
  • Unified Sports Additional Rules: A partner can’t be a registered coach at that competition. A partner must be of similar age and ability as the athlete (within 3-5 years for athletes 21 years of age or younger and within 10-15 years for athletes aged 22 or older).

In addition to those rules, competitors are expected to maintain proper etiquette, follow all designated protocols, and show a good sense of sportsmanship. 

Benefits of Special Olympics Figure Skating

Now that you know all about the technicalities of Special Olympics figure skating, you’re probably wondering about the benefits. First, let’s talk about awards. There are no World Records in this sport. Instead, each athlete is recognized and valued equally. In each division, all athletes win an award, ranging from gold, silver, and bronze medals to fourth through eighth place ribbons. All athletes are allowed the chance to participate, perform, and be recognized for doing their best by teammates, friends, and family. 

In addition to the promise of a physical reward, there are also plenty of mental and physiological benefits to participating in this sport. Figure skating provides excellent exercise by stimulating the athlete’s circulation, strengthening their muscles, and improving posture and balance. It’s also a mentally stimulating sport that encourages confidence, self-reliance, and the ability to get along well with others, even in a highly competitive environment.

Participating in Special Olympics figure skating can help athletes develop their physicality and give them a strong sense of purpose and belonging. Engaging in competitions gives them the ability to show off their skills, put their confidence to the test, and learn more about the sport.

Get Involved at the Special Olympics

If you’re feeling inspired and looking to make a difference, there are several ways to get involved. Consider volunteering your time, whether it’s assisting at events, coaching, or helping organize local competitions. Becoming a coach is a rewarding way to share your knowledge and passion for figure skating, while starting a local program can provide opportunities for athletes in your community. You can also make a significant impact by encouraging and supporting someone you know to become a Special Olympics figure skater, which can be as simple as buying them a quality pair of competitive ice skates from Riedell.