Roller skaters still do figures

Figures were once the backbone of figure skating on ice (hence the name in English), but experienced a steep decline in popularity after they were dropped as a competitive requirement in 1991. Today, ice skaters rarely do them. In roller skating, in contrast, figures continue to thrive—on quad skates. They don’t really work on inlines.

Roller figures in 2011.

In roller skating, figures and freestyle were combined (as they were in ice skating) in the 1940s, but in 1949, American competitions separated them. For a decade or so after that, American skaters were known for having great jumps but poor skating skills (Pickard 2010, 116). This is exactly what happened on ice in the 1990s.

This separation had another effect in roller skating that seems to have been missing from ice skating:

The RSROA’s separation of figures and free sakting events in 1949 encouraged dance skaters to spill into figure skating as a second event by the elimination of the acrobatics formerly required in combined event [sic] with free style.

Pickard 2010, 133

Some roller skaters continued to do both figures and freestyle, and the influx of dancers helped keep figures going. The singles event remained combined (requiring both figures and freestyle) in the world championship until 1980, when they were separated there, too (Pickard 2010, 116). Yet roller skaters continued to skate figures. Even now, 40 years later, roller skaters still do figures, and figures events are common and competitive. In contrast, on the ice, on the rare occasion that a figures event is offered, the number of competitors is very low.

Why have figures done so well in roller skating and so poorly on the ice?


David H. Lewis. 1997. Roller Skating for Gold. London: Scarecrow Press.

George Pickard. 2010. Titans and Heroes of American Roller Skating. Lincoln, NE: National Museum of Roller Skating.