Figures are rarely shown on television because they are boring to watch. There is no music, and the skaters carry out these exercises extremely slowly. One mark is given by each judge for each of the three figures. The rule-books state that this should reflect the style and posture of the skater as well as the figures geometry. Today style is completely overlooked, however. Skaters adopt ugly positions striving to get the second tracing position within a millimetre of the first. The judges closely examine the tracings, even getting down on their hands and knees to peer at the lines. It is a trend that many, including John Curry, abhor.
The ISU recognises forty-one figures, which are each given a number. In the more advanced figures the skater executes a circle and then, instead of striking off on the other foot, merely changes edge and continues on the same foot for another circle. These are called paragraph figures, and because they take so long to perform, it was recently decided that only two tracings would be required in these figures, rather than the three tracings on each foot that are required in the others. Turns of 180 Degrees involving only one foot are included in most figures. These are three turns, bracket turns, rocker turns and counter turns. The three turn, so called because the tracing left on the ice looks like the number three, is from one edge to another that is, either outside to inside or inside to outside and from one direction to the other, either forward to backward, or backward to forward, turning in the bodys natural flow of movement.
The bracket turn, which leaves an impression on the ice which looks like a bracket, is also from one edge to the other and one direction to the other, but this time the turning is done against the natural flow of the body which makes this a more difficult turn.
The rocker turn is from one direction to the other but from one edge to the same edge, while turning in the natural flow. The counter turn is from one direction to the other and from one edge to the same edge, but turning against the natural flow of the body.
In addition are the loop figures, which are circles within circles.
Although the quality of figures has improved in recent years because the science of skate-making has developed and ice conditions are much better, judges these days rarely award more than 4.0 marks, even to a World champion. The reason for this is open to speculation, but it could be that the judges know they cannot fool anyone into believing that they used to free skate better than todays performers. However, by keeping the school figures marks down so low they maybe hope to give the impression their figures were better!