How Do Figure Skaters Qualify for the Winter Olympic Games?

Female figure skater with coach practicing routine in skating rink
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Figure skaters who qualify for the Winter Olympics have spent years preparing for the event, but only a very special and select group of figure skaters will qualify and participate in the Olympic Winter Games.

The country hosting the Winter Olympics automatically is eligible to send at least one entry per event, but not all countries are eligible to send even one skater to the Olympic Games.

Only the skaters of the highest caliber will qualify for the Olympics.

The World Figure Skating Championships, which takes place a year before an Olympic Games, is where each country earns a certain amount of Olympic spots.


  • Countries that had two or three skaters compete in ladies singles at "Worlds," earn three spots to the Olympics in ladies singles if the total sum of the previous year's placements at the world championships is less than 13.
  • If a country's top two placements' sums are between 14 to 28 for a country, two Olympic spots are earned.
  • When the country has only one competitor at the World Figure Skating Championships, but that competitor finishes in either first place or second place, then that country earns three Olympic spots.
  • When only one competitor competed for a country at the previous world championships, and if the skater placed in the top ten, then that country earned two Olympic spots.
  • The Nebelhorn Trophy, an international figure skating competition which takes place in Oberstdorf, Germany in late September about four months before the Winter Olympics takes place, is the final event where remaining Olympic spots are allocated to countries who had not qualified for Olympic spots at the previous year's World Figure Skating Championships.

What Happens Next?

Once each country is allocated Olympic spots, each country's national figure skating governing body sets the guidelines for how its particular figure skaters qualify for the Winter Olympics.

Some countries will not send figure skaters to the Olympics unless the skater proves in advance that he or she has a chance of doing well at the Winter Olympics or proves first that he or she can at least place in the top half at the Winter Olympics Games. Canada and other countries look at skaters' past placements in international competitive events.

In the United States, those who represent the USA in the Olympics are usually the skaters who are the winners and also the silver and/or bronze medalists in the championship events at the United States National Figure Skating Championships which takes place during that particular Olympic year.

The US National Figure Skating Championships, in a sense, serves as the official USA Olympic qualifying event or Olympic tryout. Those who will represent the United States at the Olympics will not know if they will qualify until just a few weeks before.

A skater who did really well at the US National Figure Skating Championships or even won the championship title during the year before the Olympics or in previous years, may not qualify for the Olympic Winter Games.

The United States Olympic Figure Skating Team is selected only a few weeks before the Olympic Winter Games begin which means that skaters and their families cannot plan to attend in advance.

The committee that selects the skaters for the United States Olympic Team sometimes do not choose Olympic team members based on their placement at the US Championships that immediately precedes an Olympic Games, but it is very rare that a deviation is made.

Exceptions are made when a skater who deserves to go to the Olympics based on their previous competitive record is unable to compete at "Nationals" due to injury. For example, US figure skater, Michelle Kwan, had already competed in two Olympics and won medals both times. Kwan was injured before the 2006 US National Figure Skating Championships, but, despite her injury, was selected to compete at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games which took place in Torino, Italy based on her impressive and previous competition record. Kwan traveled to Torino ​but withdrew. Emily Hughes, who had won the bronze medal at the 2006 US National Figure Skating Championships, competed at the 2006 Games in Kwan's place.