10 Illegal Figure-Skating Moves You Won't See at the Olympics

In this age of quad jumps and mind-boggling partner lifts, it can seem like there's nothing figure skaters can't do on the ice. It turns out that's not quite true — although it's not because the skaters themselves aren't capable. The International Skating Union (ISU) has made several moves explicitly illegal apparently due to safety concerns, with a two-point penalty deduction if a skater performs an illegal move in competition. So while you might watch in awe as skaters complete backflips and "headbanger" spins in exhibitions, you likely won't be seeing them at the Olympics any time soon.

But that hasn't stopped some athletes. The most famous example is Surya Bonaly, a French figure skater best known for being the first woman to attempt a quad jump at the Olympics in 1992. Bonaly didn't stop pushing the boundaries there. At the 1998 Olympics, Bonaly entered her free skate knowing she was already out of medal contention. It was her last Olympics, and she decided to leave a mark by doing a backflip the middle of her routine — knowing full well it was illegal and would cost her points.

"People were just crazy about it. Except the judges," Bonaly recalled in the 2019 Netflix docuseries "Losers." A former gymnast, Bonaly could even land a backflip on one skate.

While the backflip is one of the better-known illegal moves, the ISU lists several others. In pairs and singles figure skating, the following are illegal in competition:

  • Somersault-like jumps: this includes backflips, tuck jumps, and other jumps where your legs go over your head.
  • Lifts with "wrong holds": in pairs, skaters are only allowed to do holds that are hand to hand, hand to arm, hand to body, or hand to upper leg. Any other type of hold (including "headbanger" hand-to-foot spins, explained below) is illegal.

In ice dance, the following are illegal:

  • Sitting on the partner's head
  • Standing on the partner's shoulder
  • Lifting partner in an upside-down split post
  • The "headbanger," or bounce spin: in this move, one partner swings the other by holding on to just their legs or skates with fully extended arms. This is usually done while the lifting partner spins around, moving the lifted partner up and down as they spin.
  • Lifting partner swings the lifted partner without using their hands, with the lifted partner holding on with just their feet or legs around the lifting partner's neck
  • Lifting partner holds the lifted partner above the head with extended arms: this type of hold is allowed in pairs, but not in ice dance.
  • Jumps or throw jumps with more than one revolution: this is the main factor separating ice dance from pairs figure skating — in ice dance, the skaters aren't allowed to do jumps except when entering or exiting a move.
  • Lying on the ice

While you won't be seeing these moves at the Beijing Olympics, they're often performed during ice shows. 2022 Olympic champion Nathan Chen has even been known to break out a backflip during gala exhibitions, and you have to wonder if his coach is as nervous as us watching it. Look, we trust him — this is a man who can land five quads in a program and barely break a sweat. But there's a reason these moves are banned, and ice is slippery — so be careful out there, OK, Nathan? And it goes without saying, but we wouldn't recommend trying these tricks at your local mall rink, either. We mere mortals should probably focus on just staying upright.

click to play video