Backflips Performed by Figure Skaters

Did you know the backflip is considered an illegal ice skating move?

Skater in the middle of a backflip
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images

The backflip is considered an illegal figure skating move at standard U.S. Figure Skating and International Skating Union (ISU) events. It can be done, but the backflip will not only not receive credit, but a skater will also receive deductions (or be disqualified) if the move is performed in eligible figure skating competitions. It is a somersault-type jump, and as per the ISU's rulebook, two points are deducted from a skater's score for performing such a move. It was banned a few months after the 1976 Olympics.

Controversy at the 1976 Olympic Games

So it stands that men's figure skating champion Terry Kubicka's backflip at the 1976 Winter Olympics was the first and only legal one, and there was a big controversy about the backflip at time. While Kubicka was doing another move, a flying sit spin, at one of the practice rinks, his blade went through to a plastic pipe and caused a leak. That accident caused the rink to close for 24 hours.

Even though the move that caused the leak was not Kubicka's backflip, that may have been part of the reason that the backflip eventually was banned by the ISU. The official reason for the ban was because the landing is made on two feet instead of one and is thus not a "real" skating jump.

Surya Bonaly Lands a Backflip on One Foot

Later, Surya Bonaly landed the backflip on one foot at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, even though the move was still considered illegal. She performed it during the free skate because she had an injured Achilles and knew that she was out of gold medal contention in her last Olympics. She had nothing to lose, overall, if she went for it. She received a deduction for the move and finished in 10th place. But the crowd and press loved it.

She had previously demonstrated her backflip during practice at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Though she didn't use it in competition that year, just doing it was a demonstration of her abilities and spirit. She came in second to Yuka Sato and was disappointed, refusing to share the podium.

Bonaly retired from competition after the 1998 Winter Olympic Games and toured professionally with Champions on Ice. She performed a backflip at the Ice Theater of New York's gala in 2008.

Backflips in Non-Qualifying Competition

The first-ever backflip figure skating competition was held as part of the Inaugural Freezer Aerial Figure Skating Challenge during the Broadmoor Open in 2015. The event was a non-qualifying figure skating championship. The only female competitor at the event was Caleigh Newberry, and the winner of the competition was Richard Dornbush.

An entertaining part of the event was a video shown of famous figure skaters doing backflips on the ice. It is available for viewing on YouTube as "Backflips on the Ice" and includes Olympic champions Robin Cousins, Brian Orser, Scott Hamilton, Surya Bonaly, and more. Especially impressive is Janet Champion doing a string of 10 back handsprings followed by a backflip and teams of four and five skaters doing backflips.

The competition now has a women's and men's division.

Backflip Trivia

1980 World Professional Figure Skating Champion Scott Cramer said he's successfully completed 10,032 backflips on ice skates. He was the third figure skater to do backflips after Skippy Baxter, as a professional show skater in the 1950s, and Terry Kubicka.