ISU 1798 Overview, Part I: Block, Circle, Line, Wheel, Intersection

Remember that time I said this?…

I suspect we’ll see more clarifications, rather than changes, given [ISU Communication 1786] is described as replacing Appendix A in Communication 1759. Logic leads me to believe the intention is for 1759 to remain the core reference document, but perhaps simply with minor updates to come.


ISU Communication 1798 outlines several rather major changes to the Difficulty Groups for 2013-14, which is why I’m going to break my overview up into a few separate entries. I’m still working my way through many of the details, and already have a list of questions I expect will be clarified in additional Communications, Q and As, and/or the Summary of Calls in the coming months. For instance, 1798 does not confirm in which cases turns must be correctly executed, versus when they only need to be attempted, for a variation to count.

Disclaimer: The information here in no way replaces ISU documents or language. I’m interpreting this new communication to the best of my ability, and will communicate any corrections or clarifications I receive.

To begin, a few general comments and observations:

  • “Base” — This is a new level that applies to every element and feature, and reflects the bare minimum requirements that must be met for an element or feature to be called. Thus, Difficulty Groups now range from Level Base to Level 4. Why the ISU chose to add a group below Level 1, instead of creating Level 5, I don’t know. But no matter which way you slice it, most elements and features now have one more Difficulty Group than they used to.
  • Difficulty — In many cases, Level 4 has become much harder to achieve, which I personally believe is a good thing: it puts synchro more on par with the other disciplines.
  • Choice — Over the years, there has been a bit of a yo-yo pattern where rules become more restrictive, then less, then more again. This season, some choice has been introduced back into the mix, though moreso in the lower Difficulty Groups. Still, many Level 4’s have become less restrictive, giving teams freedom to continue on the path of creativity and innovation we started to see emerging last year.

Now, for some specifics. I’m starting with what I consider to be the five foundation elements — Block, Circle, Line, Wheel, and Intersection — that are relevant for nearly every team worldwide. I don’t plan to delve into the nitty gritty of every criterion and requirement, but will draw attention to changes in an effort to help coaches and skaters focus their learning.


  • Basic requirements — No change. To get the element called (Base), a minimum of three lines must cover at least half the length of the ice, or comparable distance. (Junior and Senior teams must pivot in four lines in the Short Program.)
  • Feature — None (no change).
  • Variation(s) — Change: the only applicable variation, for points, is pivoting. Change of configuration with a 360 rotation is no longer a variation.
  • Pivoting — Naturally, the pivoting requirements get more challenging with each Difficulty Group. The degrees of pivoting are still measured from the entry edge of the first turn (except for B1), pivoting may only be in one direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise), some levels require a change of pivot ends and some don’t, a one-foot series of turns is required for B3 and B4, etc. The main change is the use of changes of edge during a series: for Level 4, no changes of edge are permitted between turns, and for Level 3, one option allows a change of edge between each turn, while the other doesn’t. This means teams that have used a tried-and-true series in their pivots for a few years may have to go back to the drawing board.
  • Note — Towards the end of last season, a clarification was issued explaining that pivoting must progress along/across the ice at all times, and the change of pivot ends may not be executed in a circular or regressive pattern. This also applies for the upcoming season, and is explained in 1798. Junior and Senior teams who competed at Worlds should be aware of this clarification, but for teams whose season ended early, this may be new. 1798 states, “the element should never go back so that it crosses its own track during a change of pivot point.” A million years ago when I was taught how to travel Circles and Wheels, I learned a mantra that might come in handy for teams struggling with this concept: “Don’t go back to where you were.”


  • Basic requirements — No change. For the element to be called (Base), there must be a minimum of four skaters in a Circle, and all skaters must rotate a minimum of 360 degrees (or equivalent if changing rotational direction). Six skaters per circle is required for C3 and C4.
  • Feature(s) — None (no change).
  • Variation(s) — Change: the only applicable variation, for points, is traveling. Changes of configuration and rotational direction may presumably be allowed (though a change of configuration will end travel), but do not count for any of the Difficulty Groups.
  • Traveling — The big change here has to do with distance. In past years, the standard travel distance was 1/4 of the length of the ice surface (or comparable if on a curve). This season, any amount of recognizable travel is required for C1, more than 5m of travel is required for C2, and more than 10m of travel is required for C3 and C4. Additionally, though turns and linking steps are required for C2, C3, and C4, there is no restriction on the number of cross-overs that may be included: two cross-overs in a row no longer ends the travel.
  • Note — Though some of the language has changed regarding how/where skaters should be stepping during traveling, in a nut-shell it is still saying, “no assisting.” Skaters should still use their blades to glide on a moving circular pattern, not step off the pattern, or use their toe-picks, or change their skating direction or steps, to assist the travel.


  • Basic requirements — No change. A maximum of two lines, as even as possible, must cover at least half the length of the ice (or comparable distance) for the Line to be called (Base). If half the team breaks away to execute creativity, there must still be at least eight skaters in one line, or four skaters per line in two lines.
  • Feature — None (no change).
  • Variation(s) — Change: as with the Block, change of configuration with a 360 rotation has been eliminated as a variation. This year, Difficulty Groups are determined by (1) pivoting, or (2) a combination of interacting and pivoting. There are four different ways to achieve L2, and two different ways to achieve L3.
  • Pivoting — Pivoting must still be in only one direction (clockwise or anti-clockwise), degrees are measured as soon as the line begins to pivot, and if there are two lines, both must pivot at the same time. Like the Circle travel, there is no restriction on the number of cross-overs that may be used. Turns must be included in pivoting except for L1, and the slow end skater must not become stationary. As in the Block, the pivoting must progress along/across the ice, and the change of pivot end should not be done in a circular or regressive manner. Remember, “Don’t go back to where you were.”
  • Interacting & Pivoting — The criteria for interacting and pivoting has been reduced to three bullets. Teams can now use one or two of the IP bullets for L2 or L3, to build up to a full L4 IP. Depending how you look at it, this is not necessarily a change, since teams that executed bullets incorrectly, or omitted them, were subject to downgrades in the past anyway. However, I like these new Difficulty Groups because it allows teams to train gradually to an L4 by design, if they so choose. All of the pivoting criteria listed above also apply to IP.
  • Note — Though the rules no longer explicitly state all corners of the lines must meet for L4 interacting and pivoting, physics and the other three IP criteria dictates this will probably still happen much of the time.

WHEEL (Free Program)

  • Basic requirements — No change. For the Wheel to be called (Base), there must be at least three skaters per spoke, and the Wheel must rotate at least 360 degrees (or equivalent if using more than one rotational direction). Four skaters per spoke is required for W2.
  • Feature — None (no change).
  • Variation(s) — Change: the Wheel has entirely different variations for the Free Program than it does for the Short, so read carefully. (I’m going to skip the Short Program for the time being, and only focus on the Free since it applies to a greater segment of the synchro population. Also, some aspects of the Short Program Wheel are on the seriously confusing side, so I will need to devote some more time to it.) In the Free, a W2 will be the highest call. Teams will choose two (for W1) or three (for W2) of the following: (1) two different configurations (change of configuration); (2) change of rotational direction; (3) release hold for three seconds; (4) change of position of each spoke.
  • Change of configuration and change of rotational direction: Neither of these requires the inclusion of rotations, though rotations are permitted. The change of configuration may not be on the spot; similarly, flow must be maintained during the change of rotational direction (no stopping). All skaters must change direction at the same time.
  • Change of position of each spoke: This is a new variation, and simply means that the spoke changes position so that the skaters’ order becomes reversed (i.e., the outside skater becomes the center/pivot skater). All spokes/skaters must change place at the same time; rotations may or may not be used; and the hold may or may not release. (Again, pay close attention to the Short versus Free criteria: rotations ARE required in the Short for this variation.)
  • Note — Travel is permitted in the Wheel in the Free Program, but is not counted.


  • Basic requirements — No change. All skaters must intersect for the element to be called (Base). Level Base also includes all Intersections with a forward preparation and approach, including Intersections with eight pairs.
  • Difficulty Groups  — Change: with the addition of Level Base and a new variation (below), Difficulty Groups look different from previous years. Back-to-back prep and approach is required for all Intersections from Levels 1-4. Any Intersection (including L and Combined) has moved to I1. Collapsing Intersections (Box and Triangle) are now I2 or I3, depending which variations are used. Whips are I3 or I4 depending on variations used, and different kinds of Angled Intersections with different combinations of variations are found in I2, I3, and I4.
  • Feature — Point of intersection (no change).
  • Variation(s) — Change: there are now two variations for Intersections. (1) Back-to-back prep and approach (including backward pivoting entry) remains a variation for Levels 1-4. (2) For I4, and one of the options for I3, teams must also execute a backward 360 rotation during the approach.
  • Back-to-back prep and approach (including backward pivoting entry): This remains largely unchanged. Skaters must maintain a hold until they release to execute rotations, and rotations executed during the approach must start and end backwards for the variation to count. If using the pivoting entry, the lines must pivot at least 90 degrees before intersecting. As always, shoulders must be parallel to the opposing line, not twisted toward it. 1798 does not specify that skaters must execute a minimum of four steps back-to-back during the preparation phase. I can’t confirm whether this is an intentional change, or an omission that will be clarified in a later Communication.
  • Backward 360 degree rotation during approach (before pi): This variation is new, and very specific, so pay close attention to the language in 1798. The 360 must be executed immediately before the pi rotation. A quick step is permitted between the 360 and the pi to change rotational direction (except for the Whip). Once the team has started to rotate, skaters may not reconnect until the pi is complete. Rotations may be on one or two feet. For the Angled Intersection, this rotation must begin at least FOUR places away from where the skater will intersect. The pi rotation for the Angled Intersection must still only begin two places away from the skater’s hole; pay close attention to this difference (the Technical Panels will!). For the Whip, all rotations (for the variation and the pi) must be in the same rotational direction as the line is traveling during the approach phase. This adds quite a bit of difficulty to the Whip, as last year many teams changed rotational direction going into the pi to try to gain control.
  • Specific Intersection requirements: There are no changes here, but this is worth reviewing. In a Collapsing Intersection, the lines must be as equal as possible. It never ceases to amaze me how many teams ignore this rule, and are unnecessarily penalized. A Whip must still maintain a curved half-circle until the pivot (slow) skaters are back to back, and the three fast skaters in each line can intersect slightly later than the rest of the team. In the Angled Intersection, the corridor can only be a maximum of 2.5m once the lead skaters begin to overlap. At this point, a slight pivot (less than 45 degrees) is permitted.

Point of Intersection Feature

  • Basic requirements and Level Base — This is one of the first instances where the basic requirements do not also essentially dictate Level Base. Rather, Level Base (piB) is awarded for “Any pi that does not meet the basic requirements and/or calling specifications for Level 1, 2, or 3 but has been attempted by the team (with or without a rotation at the actual axis of point of intersection).” I interpret that to mean as long as the skaters pass through each other, they will be given piB.
  • The basic requirements, that presumably apply to the other levels, are the usual: rotation must begin before skaters pass through and continue through pi (except pi1); rotations may not be on the spot; rotations must be quick/fast spinning, uninterrupted; rotations may use turns and/or linking steps; may be on one or two feet; change of edge or feet between two 180s is permitted if continuous; no cross-overs are permitted.
  • Difficulty Groups: The pi levels are essentially unchanged, with pi1 requiring any forward or backward 180 degree rotation, pi2 requiring any forward continuous 360 degree or more rotation, and pi3 requiring a backward 360 degree or more roation. Collapsing and Combined Intersections (where skaters intersect at different times) still require two rotations for pi1 and pi2 and three for pi3. As usual, the timing of the pi rotations is key. 1798 outlines exactly where pi’s must start and end, so I won’t go into detail here.
  • Variation(s) — None (no change).

I’ll leave you to digest all of that for now, and hope to have Part 2 available in a few days.


  1. Hi, do you know what rules for a wheel are for basic novice?
    These from page 13 (WHEEL ELEMENT – Junior and Senior SHORT PROGRAM and Novice FREE SKATING) or for categories like basic novice, adults, juvenile are rules from page 14 (WHEEL – Junior and Senior FREE SKATING )?


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