Do salchows and twizzles leave your head spinning? Figure skating terms explained

Patrick Chan of Canada practices his routine during Figure Skating training ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

If Olympic ice skating terminology leaves you out in the cold, you’re not alone. Want to learn the difference between a salchow and a twizzle? We have broken down some of the most popular figure skating moves so that you can follow along like a pro.


There are several figure skating jumps that make up short and long programs. Jumps are judged on difficulty and execution, meaning more revolutions in the air equal more points. The most difficult jumps are quadruples, or “quads,” which means the skater rotates at least four, but not more than five, times in the air.

In 1988, Canadian figure skater Kurt Browning was the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump in competition. These days, not having one in a men’s single skating program is considered a handicap. While quads and triples are important, one jump is never enough. Skaters have to combine jumps in combinations to rack up the points.

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Axel: An axel is the only jump that starts from skating forward. The jump rotates an extra half rotation than most jumps so that it can be landed backwards. The most rotations any figure skater has ever accomplished in competition is a triple axel. This jump is regarded as the most difficult. It is also the most recognizable because of its forward entry.

Flip: The flip is a toe jump – meaning the skater digs their toe pick into the ice to launch – that takes off from the back inside edge and lands on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. This is one of the first jumps a young figure skater learns.

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Lutz: The lutz is a toe jump that takes off from a back inside edge and lands on the back outside edge. You can always tell a lutz is coming because it is usually performed in a corner with a long diagonal glide preparation leading up to it.

Loop: Skaters enter this jump backwards and use the back outside edge of their skate to take off, landing on the same backwards edge. Not to be confused with a toe loop.

Toe Loop: A toe loop also uses the back outside edge for takeoff and landing, however the skater uses the toe pick to launch. It is often added immediately after other jumps to create combinations. It looks a bit like a lutz, but without the long gliding entry. Along with the salchow, the toe loop is one of the most common quad jumps.

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Salchow: It might be one of the hardest jumps to spell, but it’s one of the easiest to execute because the entry generates a lot of momentum. This jump takes off from the back inside edge and lands on the back outside edge of the opposite foot. If you don’t want to miss Patrick Chan’s quad salchow, it can usually be recognized by a forward outside turning approach or a mohawk (explained below).

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Throw jumps: Jumps done by pair skaters during which the male partner throws the female in the air. She then completes a normal skating jump, except from higher in the air.

Now that you’ve learned the jumps, let’s check out some other moves.

Mohawk turn: A mohawk turn is often used to enter jumps, such as the salchow. It is a two-foot turn using the same edge on each skate that takes place on a curve.

Spiral: This move is skated on one leg with the other extended in the air above hip level.

Twizzle: A popular ice dance element. This graceful move involves a one-foot turn while moving across the ice in a continuous flow. In ice dancing it is done simultaneously with a partner.

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Upright spin: A spin where the skater is in the upright position.

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I-spin: An upright spin position during which the skater pulls one leg up in a split towards the front of the body.

Sit spin: A spin where the hips are not higher than the skating knee. There are many variations of it, including a flying sit spin that includes a jump.

Camel spin: An upright spin in which the free leg is held backwards with the knee higher than hip level.

Death spiral: Unofficially, this is a pairs’ spin during which the viewer worries that the female partner might die. Officially, it is a spin during which the male partner remains in a pivot position attached with one hand to the female partner, who spins almost parallel to the ice.

Now that you’ve learned some common terminology, hopefully you can keep up with the commentators almost as fast as Patrick Chan can do a quad-toe-triple-toe combination.

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