What Is Pair Figure Skating?

Written By: Riedell | May 6, 2024

Those unfamiliar with the expansive world of figure skating are often intrigued by the impressive variety this sport offers. Pair skating is one of the many unique facets of figure skating. Unlike singles skating, where individuals showcase their skills, or ice dance, which emphasizes rhythm and elegance, pair skating is about power, precision, and partnership. 

If the idea of skating side-by-side with someone you trust implicitly while performing complex moves in front of an eager audience intrigues you, then pair skating might be for you! Let’s explore what makes this dynamic form of skating a favorite among fans and athletes alike.

What is Pair Figure Skating: An Overview

The International Skating Union defines pair figure skating as, “the skating of two persons in unison who perform their movements in such harmony with each other as to give the impression of genuine Pair Skating as compared with independent Single Skating.”

Essentially, two skaters are expected to perform in perfect synchronicity. Each pair, consisting of one female and one male skater, completes a short program and free skate while performing intricate moves in complete harmony.

Pair figure skating has been an Olympic discipline for over a century! It was first introduced at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, and its popularity has grown rapidly over the years. 

Figure skating competitions can vary depending on the discipline, but pair skating competitions are similar to others. Pair skating competitions involve two segments: the short program and the free skate program. The short program involves seven required elements, while free skating for pairs has more room for variety and personal expression.

Pair Figure Skating Moves

Pair skating involves some typical moves that skaters are expected to perform during competition, such as: 

  • Pair spins and lifts
  • Partner-assisted jumps and spirals
  • Twist lifts
  • Throw jumps
  • Spin combinations
  • Death spirals
  • Step sequences
  • Choreographic sequences.

Some of these moves are unique to pair skating, such as partner-assisted lifts and throws. Athletes have the added pressure of performing these intricate moves in harmony with their partner, as their movements are expected to be linked together by connecting steps of a different nature. Skaters must give an overall impression of unison and harmony throughout their program.

Due to the inherent complexity of these moves, pair skating is often considered to be the most dangerous and difficult to master discipline in figure skating. 

Famous U.S. Figure Skating Pairs

Many talented athletes have performed in the Olympic pair figure skating competition. U.S. competitors have stood on the Olympic podium six times and collected a total of 25 World medals. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous pair skaters:

  • Kennedy & Kennedy: Known as the “Kennedy Kids,” Michael “Peter” Kennedy III and his sister Karol won five U.S. Championship titles from 1948 to 1952. They won the World Championship in 1950 and the silver medal in the 1952 Winter Olympics.
  • Babilonia and Gardner: Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner won the 1979 World Figure Skating Championships, making them the second American team to achieve this victory. They also won five U.S. Figure Skating Championships between 1976 and 1980.
  • Kitty & Peter Carruthers: Another sibling team stepped up to the plate and showcased their talent on the ice. The pair won a 1984 Olympic Silver medal, a 1982 World Bronze medal, and had been a four-time United States National Champion between 1981 and 1984.
  • Meno & Sand: Jenni Meno and her husband, Todd Sand, were the face of American figure skating pairs in the 1990s. They had an impressive career, becoming 1998 World silver medalists, two-time World bronze medalists (1995 and 1996), and three-time U.S. national champions (1994-1996).

When Is Pair Figure Skating Season?

Pair figure skating follows traditional figure skating seasons, beginning in early July of the current year and ending at the end of June of the following year. For example, the 2023-2024 season began on July 1, 2023, and will end on June 30, 2024. 

This schedule allows skaters to complete national qualifiers and other events in the early season (late summer to early fall). 

Many national championships are held during peak season (winter). The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, European Championships, and Four Continents Championships are typically held in January.

The late season (late winter to early spring) is when the season culminates with the World Figure Skating Championships in March.

During the off-season, skaters focus on their training. This is a great time for off-the-ice training as it enhances your overall athleticism and skills.

How To Get Started Figure Skating In Pairs

Pair skating is often a rewarding and exciting experience, filled with challenges, hard work, and true teamwork. Here’s how to get started figure skating in pairs:

  1. Take Skating Lessons: You have to walk before you can run, and you can’t expect to jump straight into pair skating with no prior skating experience. You need a solid foundation in basic skating skills, such as edges, stroking, and jumps. Find a qualified coach and focus on learning the necessary techniques and skills for pair skating.
  2. Get a Partner: Pair skating requires a male and female skater, so you’ll need to find a partner of the opposite gender who’s interested in learning and practicing with you. Connect with other skaters at your local rink, look for local groups on social media, or talk to your coach about finding someone who’s available.
  3. Learn Basic Elements: Once you’ve developed basic skating skills and found a partner, the two of you can start practicing the more advanced and fun pair skating elements. Work with a coach to master side-by-side jumps and spins, throws, and lifts.
  4. Work on Advanced Elements: As you and your partner grow more confident together, you can begin learning more advanced elements such as death spirals, synchronized spins, and more complex lifts and throws. Work closely with your coach and keep the lines of communication open with your partner. These moves require complete trust and coordination, so make sure you and your partner are a good match.
  5. Compete & Perform: Now that you and your partner are comfortable with pair skating elements, you can compete in local and regional championships and perform in shows and exhibitions! Competing and performing allows you to showcase your skills and gain experience in these settings.

Skate On With Riedell

Figure skating is a broad sport with something for everyone to enjoy, whether that’s through ice dance, singles skating, or pair skating. As always, your safety should be paramount regardless of which discipline you choose. Stay safe on the ice by choosing the right equipment, keeping up with its maintenance, and training with seasoned professionals who will help you achieve your dreams.