This was the decade where I was introduced to figure skating. In this decade, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I’ve watched as skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir own this decade, I’ve watched the holy trinity of Yuna Kim, Mao Asada and Carolina Kostner set the standard in ladies’ skating, and I’m witnessing the birth of a new, dominant trifecta in Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova. As we close our the decade, I’d like to share some of my favourite skating performances from the decade.
Side note to fellow figure skating fans: these are my personal tastes! I know that there are many many more iconic performances that I may have missed and you are welcome to add performances or programs that I have not included here.
30. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin “Moulin Rouge” Rhythm Dance at the 2020 Russian National Figure Skating Championships (held in December 2019).
The packaging of this program alone has already made it a winner for this season’s best rhythm dance. The drama and complexity of the choreography and Stepanova and Bukin’s amazing on-ice chemistry is just the cherry on top.
29. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir “Prince” Short Dance at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships.
After taking two seasons off from the sport, the king and queen of ice dance came back better than ever, and were undefeated in their first season back in the sport. As for the quality of this program — the commentary says it all.
28. Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov “Swan Lake” Free Dance at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The most iconic and underrated program of the Sochi Olympics. Sadly, Ilinykh and Katsalapov ended their partnership after the Olympic season. Whilst Katsalapov is still competing with a new partner, Ilinykh has unfortunately presumably left the sport. Oh well, we’ll always have Swan Lake.
27. Jason Brown “Riverdance” Free Skate at the 2014 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships.
There was a video of this program that had millions of views. Sadly, I couldn’t find it but that alone should tell you the entertainment value of this program. Jumps have never been Jason’s forté, but his flexibility, basic skating and ability to reach an audience is what truly captures the hearts of skating and non-skating fans everywhere. Again, just listen to the commentary, and you’ll see why this program made the list.
26. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov “Masquerade Waltz” Short Program at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Pairs programs can be difficult to love because there’s just so much technical content, but this program showcases Volosozhar and Trankov’s amazing technical ability in the best way possible. They are also one of the few pair or dance teams where the male partner is more dynamic than the female partner.
25. Alena Kostornaia “The Departure & November” Short Program at the 2020 Russian National Figure Skating Championships (held in December 2019).
Since Yuna Kim, Mao Asada and Carolina Kostner’s departure from the sport, the hunt for ladies with that perfect mixture of artistic and technical ability has ended now that Alena (pronounced Al-YOH-na) Kostornaia is on the senior circuit. With big jumps like Yuna Kim, a triple axel like Mao Asada and interpretive abilities like Carolina Kostner, this lady is truly the full package and this short program really showcases Kostornaia’s ability and potential.
24. Rika Kihira “Beautiful Storm” Free Skate at the 2018 NHK Trophy.
Two triple axels, and the rest of the triples done with perfect technique, this competition marked Kihira’s entrance into the senior ladies circuit. A highly talented, but often inconsistent junior, many kept their expectations for Kihira’s senior debut low. However, with her victory here over established names like Satoko Miyahara and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, this was the start of a more confident and consistent Rika Kihira.
23. Kevin Aymoz “The Question of U” Short Program at the 2019–20 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.
From the music drama at the beginning to the celebration at the end, this skate is pure gold. Kevin Aymoz is a performer through and through. This program is Iconique and perfectly showcases all of Aymoz’s ability.
22. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir “Dream a Little Dream of Me” Short Dance at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a YouTube video of the program at the Olympics. Marina Zueva really did choreograph some of Virtue/Moir’s best and most difficult programs, including this one. This program is one of Tessa and Scott’s best and most underrated programs.
21. Carolina Kostner “Ave Maria” Short Program at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Oh, Carolina. It’s hard to not fall in love with her skating. Despite being known for her amazing skating skills, performance and interpretive abilities, she was also known for getting inside her head and sometimes falling apart in competition. This program is Carolina at her very very best — if you’re not moved by this program then I’m sorry, you’re probably dead inside.
20. Yuna Kim’s “Les Miserables” Free Skate at the 2013 World Championships.
The standing ovation before Yuna Kim even finished this skate says it all. Yuna’s textbook jump technique, stellar skating skills and innate ability to draw an audience into her performance made her so compelling, especially when you factor in her backstory and years of struggle with injury. This free skate was Yuna’s highly-anticipated return to competition after a two year hiatus and she certainly delivered.
19. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir “Carmen” Free Dance at the 2013 World Championships.
I’m just going to say it: this is the best and most iconic Carmen program of all time. Everything about this is art. Scott’s scream at the beginning. The sexual tension throughout. The Cunniliftus. The subversive ending. And the fact that they performed this at the World Championships in their hometown of London, Ontario makes this performance even more special. We won’t discuss the placements.
18. Marin Honda “Romeo & Juliet” Free Skate at the 2017 World Junior Championships.
Japanese skating fans have followed Marin Honda since she was a child and when watching her skate, it’s easy to understand why. Marin’s flow and glide across the ice is so natural and effortless that it can reduce one to tears. Combine this with her innate and unteachable charisma, and this just makes her and her skating so compelling. Romeo & Juliet is a program that should be exclusively done by younger skaters, and this is one of the best. Again, we won’t discuss the placements.
17. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong “Spanish Romance” Short Program at the 2016 World Championships.
One of Sui/Han’s best and dare I say most underrated programs. Everything about this program is iconic. The choreography especially, requires such precision and timing and they really nail it here. Also, let’s not forget that Sui Wenjing landed all the (massive) jumps in this program with a completely broken ankle. Sui Wenjing is the most badass human in the world. Do not mess with Sui Wenjing.
16. Yulia Lipnitskaya “You Don’t Give Up On Love” Short Program at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Team Event).
When Yulia Lipnitskaya drew the final heart on the ice, a star was born. As a competitive skater, Yulia had many great qualities, with the biggest one being her flexibility. No one has been able to replicate that final spin that Yulia does. Her skates in the team event at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games really helped the Russian team to victory. Yulia is truly a star that burned out too soon.
15. Yuzuru Hanyu “Parisienne Walkways” Short Program at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
This was the first short program to break the 100 point barrier, and what a program it was. From the amazing jumps done with transitions in and out, the fabulous spins, the iconic step sequence and musicality, combined with Yuzuru Hanyu’s untouchable star power, this program is simply a masterpiece. Hanyu replicated this program this season in an exhibition.
14. Alexandra Trusova “Summer” Free Skate at the 2018 World Junior Championships.
The free skate heard around the world. Two quads landed with positive grades of execution — the first achieved by a female skater. Three triple-triple combinations perfectly executed in the second half. Since this historic free skate, Alexandra Trusova’s quad arsenal has only grown, with the feisty skater able to perform a quad salchow, toeloop, lutz and flip. Because of her achievements, she’s undoubtedly pushed ladies’ skating into a new era.
13. Yulia Lipnitskaya “Schindler’s List” Free Skate at 2013 Skate Canada International.
Okay, hear me out: I know that the performance she did at the 2014 Olympics is the most iconic and well-known version of this program, but there’s something about the novelty and the awe of the audience in this program that for me, makes it even more special than the famous Olympic performance. (Also her final spin is more centred in this program than the famous Olympic one). This program showcases everything that Yulia has to offer — the spins, her amazing extension and flexibility and the surprisingly mature storytelling (she’s only 15 here!).
12. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong “Turandot” Free Skate at the 2017 NHK Trophy.
This thumbnail really conveys their power. Everything about this program is flawless. The quad twist. The throws. The lifts. The choreography. The on-ice chemistry. Wenjing’s empress-like presence. It’s so good that the only flaw, really, was that this wasn’t replicated at the Olympics.
11. Yuzuru Hanyu “Romeo & Juliet” Free Skate at the 2012 World Championships.
Even before his Olympic Golds, the skating community knew that this kid was going places. His talent, intensity, obvious passion and on-ice charisma was apparent. Even with the flaws, there’s something so raw and passionate about 17 year old Yuzuru Hanyu’s skating here. Listen to how involved the commentators are, how invested the audience are to his every movement — everyone knew they were watching something special.
10. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong “Rain In Your Black Eyes” Free Skate at the 2019 World Championships.
One of the best pairs performances ever, and all of this was done after Sui Wenjing’s comeback from a multitude of injuries. Not only is this performance technically flawless (look at the speed in the lifts!); the detail in the transitions, choreography and musical interpretation makes this one of the best pair’s programs ever, and the best pair’s performance of the decade. All I want for Sui/Han next decade is for them to finally win that coveted Olympic Gold Medal in their home country.
9. Yuna Kim “Gershwin Concerto in F” Free Skate at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Whilst we can talk all day about all the wonderful qualities in Yuna Kim’s skating, what makes Yuna Kim’s success so remarkable is her background. Figure skating is a sport that is so very dependent on infrastructure and federation support, and coming from South Korea, Yuna Kim had very little of that. This program was iconic, not only because it was a flawless record-breaking Olympic gold medal program, but because it signified the birth of a new powerful skating federation. As we head into 2020, South Korean skating (especially ladies’ skating), is slowly becoming an international force, and this is all thanks to the legacy of Yuna Kim.
8. Yuzuru Hanyu “Hope & Legacy” Free Skate at the 2017 World Championships.
“Very probably the best figure skate ever”. You know you’ve watched a program too many times when you know the commentary by heart. And yet, this legendary program is still vastly underrated. In the 2016–17 season, Yuzuru Hanyu made a calculated risk by skating to Japanese music that was generally unknown to the Eurocentric skating world. Whilst this program choice was vastly under-appreciated by judges and commentators early in the season, this world championship winning free skate was pure vindication.
7. Wakaba Higuchi “Skyfall” Free Skate at the 2018 World Championships.
Wakaba Higuchi, also known as Wakabond, can express and perform on the ice like no one else. This was the program that should’ve been at the Olympics and as much as I love all her programs, I wouldn’t mind if Wakaba Higuchi skated to this every season for the rest of her skating career. Not only are the jumps, steps and choreographed movements pristinely placed for maximum emotional impact, this program perfectly suits Wakaba’s powerful and expressive style of skating. This program was also redemption for Wakaba, who unfortunately didn’t qualify to the Olympics and had a rough short program.
6. Yuzuru Hanyu “Seimei” Free Skate at the 2015–16 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.
The most technically perfect version of Seimei, this was skated at a time when Yuzuru Hanyu was so clearly the most dominant skater, both technically and artistically (in my opinion, he still is, but I won’t get into that here). Earlier that season at the NHK Trophy, he became the first skater to break the 200 point barrier in the free skate and 300 point total score barrier, after previously breaking the 100 point barrier in the short program, and did so here again in emphatic fashion. As the commentator says, “We’re in the presence of real greatness”.
5. Mao Asada “Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto №2” Free Skate at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Here’s the story: Mao Asada was one of the skaters favoured to take home the Olympic Gold Medal in 2014. She completely faltered in the short program which put her down in 16th place. Without a shot at a medal, she was now skating for pride. Everything about this program done at this occasion is perfect and awe-inspiring. In my personal opinion, this is one of, if not the best ladies’ skating program ever. Skating to Rachmaninoff in Russia? Da. Triple axel? Landed. Step Sequence? Iconic. Choreographic Sequence? Transcendent. Reaction? Priceless. If you’re not crying when she’s crying at the end, then I’m sorry, I don’t think we can be friends.
4. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir “Moulin Rouge” Free Dance at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s final competitive Olympic skate was an absolute banger. Not only did it win them the Olympic Gold Medal and consequently make them the most decorated Olympic figure skaters in history, their passion and sizzling on-ice chemistry drew millions of viewers into the sport. When the usually very composed Tessa Virtue shows the emotion she did at the end of that skate, you know they’ve done something extra special. If you need any further proof of how iconic this program and Virtue/Moir are, they’ve been rumoured to have inspired a certain upcoming figure skating Netflix show (look it up, I won’t get into the details).
3. Yuzuru Hanyu “Seimei” Free Skate at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Okay, yes, there were two jump errors in this. I know. But for me and many others, this was the most emotionally involved version of Seimei, for both Yuzuru Hanyu and his fans (of which I consider myself one). When you consider that Yuzuru Hanyu executed this program mere months after a potentially career-ending injury and had only been training triple axels and quadruple jumps for a few weeks prior to this competition, it makes everything he achieved all the more impressive. Yuzuru Hanyu is truly the GOAT of men’s figure skating, and this program shows you exactly why.
2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir “Mahler Symphony №5” Free Dance at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The free dance that defined the decade and changed the sport of ice dance. The youngest ice dance team ever to win Olympic gold. A performance that was done to perfection, despite the fact that Tessa Virtue could barely walk. There are so many facets of this program that make it legendary, from its conception to its execution. This piece of music was originally used by legendary pairs skater Ekaterina Gordeeva, in a solo skate choreographed by Marina Zueva as a tribute to her late husband and pairs skating partner Sergei Grinkov. According to various stories and sources, Zueva, who served as Virtue and Moir’s coach and choreographer for many years, saved this piece of music for them for the Olympic season as she believed that they had the same great chemistry that Gordeeva and Grinkov had. In fact, there are elements of the choreography that emulate the original performance by Gordeeva. Whilst there are teams who may go on to win more competitions, the edge quality, performance, variety, chemistry and competitive results of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, combined with the fact that Tessa Virtue suffered from chornic exertional compartment syndrome for most of their career, affirms that Virtue/Moir are truly the GOATs of ice dance.
- Yuzuru Hanyu “Chopin Ballade №1” Short Program at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
The figure skating performance of the decade is the 2018 Olympic short program by the GOAT Yuzuru Hanyu. Without even knowing the story behind the skate, it is already one of the best skates ever. The pristine jumps, magnificent spins and entrancing steps with the musicality and interpretation akin to a professional dancer, this is a masterpiece. When you find out the context of this skate and Yuzuru Hanyu’s preparation for the 2018 Olympic Games, a skate like this seems even more magical and otherworldly. To set the stage, this was his first competitive skate after three months off with a major ankle injury. Because of this injury, he opted to skip the team event and for so long, fans, commentators and sports media were left in the dark about his condition and even participation at the Games, where he was the defending champion. So on February 16th 2018, when Yuzuru Hanyu took centre ice for his Olympic short program, the world held their collective breath. Quiet applause followed his first two jumps, a quad salchow and a triple axel. The crowd finally burst into full-fledged celebration when he landed his final jump combination, a quad toeloop-triple toeloop. By the time Hanyu went into his step sequence, the crowd were ready to throw their Pooh bears onto the ice. Whilst we all see his accomplishments, it is impossible to imagine the pressure that Hanyu was under, being the defending Olympic champion, watching as younger skaters learnt more quads and got gifted scores that took him so long to achieve all whilst recovering from a potentially career-ending injury. Of course, the same thing can be said for his Olympic free skate, which many may have as their favourite, but I personally chose this program as the Program of the Decade because not only does it showcase Hanyu’s highly superior jump technique, transitions, skating skills, interpretation and presentation, it also shows us his inner strength and ability to deliver under the most impossible of circumstances. He could’ve under-delivered and we still would have applauded his bravery. But instead, he showed everyone what he was made of in these 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Personally, I feel that regardless of how his free skate would have gone (and it went very well!), this short program well and truly solidified what we’ve known for so long — that Yuzuru Hanyu is the Greatest Figure Skater of not only this decade, but of all time, and despite the best efforts of many, his achievements, legacy and devotion to the sport will remain untouched for quite some time.