What Do Figure Skating Score Colors Mean? The Boxes Turn Red, Yellow, & Green For A Reason

The figure skating scoring system is pretty complex — so it's helpful whenever the broadcaster gives you, the viewer, a glimpse into what the judges are thinking. For the 2018 PyeongChang Games, that glimpse comes in the form of a technical score box where the figure skating colors of red, yellow, and green get gradually filled in as the skate progresses.

The scoring system for Olympic figure skating has two major components: the technical element score and the program component score. The box in the top left corner of your screen as you watch figure skating on TV only refers to the technical element score, through which skaters get set amounts of points when they complete certain set elements. The program component score is the more subjective part, which judges base on the general artistry of the skate. It's important to remember that score is half of the skater's entire score, and the box with the colors doesn't represent that at all.

In order to compile the technical element score, judges add up the base scores of each element — jump, spin, transition, lift, footwork, or anything else listed — that the skater completes. The more difficult the move, the higher the base score that's assigned to it.

As the skaters complete the elements, the judges decide whether they've completed it successfully or not. The competitors all have to turn in plans containing the elements of their skate in the correct order, so the judges know what to expect (this is also how announcers can tell you when, for example, a skater has skipped a jump or completed one less rotation than planned). At the beginning of the skate, you'll see a certain number of small grey boxes at the bottom of the "Technical Score" box on your TV screen — and each box represents one of the skaters' planned elements.

Once a skater completes the element that the grey box represents, it turns either green, yellow, or red. If it turns green, it means that the skater has successfully completed the element and therefore collected a positive score for it. This could mean that they collect the full number of points that the element is worth, or a lower number of points if the judges feel that the skater completed it but something was lacking — in other words, this means that they have achieved a positive "Grade of Execution," or GOE. If it turns red, it means that the skater has not completed the element successfully, so they've gotten a negative GOE.

A negative GOE, like the positive GOE, doesn't carry a set value, and instead varies depending on exactly what the skater did wrong. If you see a box in red, though, you can be sure that a skater's getting points docked for something that they did wrong.

Yellow, then, means that it wasn't clean cut and that the judges are reviewing it to decide what score it should receive. As you keep watching, you'll see the yellow change to either a green or a red, depending on what the judges decide.

Understanding the difficulty of various figure skating elements is not easy, but the technical score box should help you out a bit with that as well. In addition to the different colored boxes, it also keeps track of the technical score in real time and shows the best technical score that a skater has received so far so that you can compare that to the current skater. You won't always be easy to match up a certain element with a certain score, but you can at least see how the skaters are progressing.

The bottom line, though, is that figure skating is complicated, but the boxes offer an easy, if simplified, explanation: green is good, red is bad, yellow is still unclear.