The style and drama of Olympic figure skating

Figure skating has become an iconic part of the Winter Games. Spectators become fascinated by the stories behind the skaters and the drama and fashion they bring to the Olympics. Click through this gallery to see the evolution of figure-skating costumes.

Imagine skating in this

Female ice skater (© Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Long skirts, wool tights and cashmere sweater sets were the standard wardrobe for women ice skaters at the first Winter Olympics in 1924. Skaters like Austria’s Herma Planck-Szabó competed at the outdoor St. Moritz Olympic Ice Rink, making the cozy clothing a must for competition. (© Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

A vision in white

Female ice skater (© Staub/Three Lions/Getty Images)
American figure skater Gretchen Merrill takes a practice twirl at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Merrill’s skating dress is thanks in part to figure-skating legend Sonja Henie. She was the first to wear white skates and hiked-up hemlines to allow for the kinds of daring leaps typically left to men competing in trousers. (© Staub/Three Lions/Getty Images)

Dressed to impress

Three figure skaters wearing medals and waving hands at crowd (© Bettmann/Getty Images)
U.S. figure skater Peggy Fleming’s mother reportedly chose the color of her daughter’s green dress after learning that the Grenoble region of France, where the 1968 Winter Games were held, is known for its Chartreuse liqueur. She hoped that the light green shade would win over the crowd. Whether it worked, the podium resembled a bouquet with gold medalist Fleming flanked by Germany’s Gabriele Seyfert in blue and Czech skater Hana Makova in pink. (© Bettmann/Getty Images)

Hamill’s hair-do

Dorothy Hamill kissing gold medal (© Bettmann/Getty Images)
American figure skater Dorothy Hamill’s signature wedge haircut became an instant classic of the 1970s, with many imitators across the country. “All a body had to do was watch 19-year-old skater Dorothy Hamill twirl her way to a gold medal at the Winter Olympics to appreciate the value of the short bob she wore,” said a 1976 article in People magazine., published after the Innsbruck Games. (© Bettmann/Getty Images)


Female skater posing on ice with arms outstretched (© Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
American Debi Thomas was a standout at the 1988 Calgary Games. Not only did she become the first black athlete to medal in the Winter Olympics, but she did so in a sparkling black and pink unitard that caused such an uproar in the figure skating world that the International Skating Union banned bodysuits from women’s competitions for 18 years. (© Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Skirting the rules

Female figure skater with arms outsretched (© Jerome Delay/AFP/Getty Images)
Thomas wasn’t the only skater whose outfit scandalized audiences in Calgary. Katarina Witt of East Germany performed in a bright blue, feathered number resembling a Las Vegas showgirl’s costume, sparking criticism from rivals. Afterward, the International Skating Union passed the “Katarina Rule” (which has since been loosened) requiring female skaters to cover their midriffs, hips and behinds in competition. (© Jerome Delay/AFP/Getty Images)

In character

Some of the flashiest costumes are seen in the free-dance routines of the ice dancing competition, where scoring rewards creativity. Here, French ice dancing partners Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder perform in masquerade-inspired outfits at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. (© Kevork Djansezian/AP Images)

A little extra sparkle

Male skater gliding on one skate (© Mark Baker/AP Images)
Johnny Weir is known for his outlandish style both on and off the ice, but he started out more demure. The American figure skater’s mother dissuaded him from covering his first costumes in sparkles, but his seamstress would sew a few rhinestones on the inside of his suits just for him. Weir had her sew rhinestones inside this black and pink costume he performed in at the Vancouver 2010 Games for good luck. (© Mark Baker/AP Images)

The big reveal

Male ice skater lifting female skater into air in dramatic pose (© Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)
Costumes can pull together a routine, and sometimes the more daring the better. Scott Moir of Canada and his ice dancing partner Tessa Virtue, seen here at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, have a ritual of revealing their outfits to one another just before competition. “When I see T, and she just looks awesome, there’s nothing like that,” Moir told the Toronto Star. “We try to reserve that special moment so we can feel that.” (© Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

While the clothing has changed, high emotion remains constant in Olympic figure skating. Scroll down to see some of the sport’s most dramatic Olympic moments.

The suspense

Spectators in packed audience (© David Breslauer/AP Images)
Britain’s Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in the stands awaiting their score in 1984. Behind and right is Britain’s Princess Anne. (© David Breslauer/AP Images)

This photo captures the moment before British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean became the highest-scoring figure skaters in Olympic history. The couple’s performance at the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Games earned perfect sixes. This record will likely never be broken since the scoring system for Olympic figure skating changed following a controversy at the 2002 Winter Games.

The passion

Man and woman in passionate embrace (© Ed Reinke/AP Images)
Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow of the United States perform at the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998. (© Ed Reinke/AP Images)

Days before the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, U.S. ice dancer Elizabeth Punsalan’s father was murdered. Devastated, Punsalan was distracted and fell during competition. Four years later, Punsalan returned to the Olympics with her skating partner, Jerod Swallow, whom she had since married, and the couple won over the judges with a steamy tango number they threw together six weeks before the Nagano Winter Games.

The triumphs

Compilation with ice skater flipping upside down (© Eric Draper/AP Images) and skater rejoicing on ice (© Eric Draper/AP Images)
Left: France’s Surya Bonaly performs a back flip during her free skate program in Nagano. (© Eric Draper/AP Images) Right: American Tara Lipinski reacts after landing a jump during her short program at the Nagano Winter Olympics. (© Eric Draper/AP Images)

Ranked by some as one of the greatest moments in U.S. figure skating history, 15-year-old Tara Lipinski’s technically masterful routine made her the youngest-ever gold medalist in the competition at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

France’s Surya Bonaly arrived at what she knew to be her last Olympics with an injury that caused her to underperform in her short program. Rather than bow out with a lackluster finish, Bonaly threw it all in with her free skate and launched into an illegal back flip, writing her name into Olympic history.

The end

Profile of man looking sad (© Vladimir Rys Photography/Getty Images)
Evgeny Plyushchenko of Russia at a warm-up during the men’s short program in Sochi. (© Vladimir Rys Photography/Getty Images)

Russian skater Evgeny Plyushchenko hoped to end his Olympic career with gold at the Sochi 2014 Games, but an injury left him so disappointed in his performance that he withdrew from competition. “What worries me, though, is that after all those victories, people don’t see me as a human being anymore,” he said. “I know pain and fatigue.”

The comeback

Two people cheering (© Amy Sancetta/AP Images)
China’s Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo react after receiving the highest score for their pairs free program, winning gold at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. (© Amy Sancetta/AP Images)

Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo thought their Olympic careers ended with two bronze medals. But the pair came back from retirement to win China’s first gold medal in figure skating in Vancouver in 2010. Later that year, they got married on the ice during a figure skating show while friends and international stars like Johnny Weir and Evgeny Plyushchenko performed in the couple’s honor.

ShareAmerica writer Emily Louise Bowman contributed to this article.