Figure skating receives a great deal of attention at every Winter Olympics. In addition to the many competitive events in which the athletes in the sport partake, some also participate in the Olympic figure skating exhibition gala, an unscored event near the end of the games. The exhibition gala allows athletes to show off their skills in a more relaxed and fun-oriented environment.
According to NBC, PyeongChang's figure skating exhibition gala will take place on the final day of the games, Feb. 25. Attending the event is reportedly highly coveted, as tickets to the gala are the second-highest priced of the games (the men's hockey final tickets have the highest price tag).
As Click on Detroit reported, exhibition galas are quite common in figure skating and take place after most major competitions in the sport. Exhibitions constitute a "more lighthearted showcase where the winners can let their hair down and skate in a manner that appeals to them [and] burn off steam," the outlet's Dane Sager Kelly wrote.
According to Rookie, at the Olympics, typically those athletes who medal or come close to the podium are the ones who participate in the exhibition gala. The exhibition often allows performers to show off a different side of their figure skating. Their performances typically include fun, more relaxed costumes and popular music.
The performers at the 2014 figure skating exhibition gala in Sochi, Russia, used their routines to really express their style, interests, and personalities. According to Sports Illustrated, the United States' Gracie Gold wore a fedora and skated to "All That Jazz" from the musical Chicago, reportedly as means of honoring her Illinois roots. Tatsuki Machida of Japan skated to "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen and played air guitar during his performance. Spanish skater Javier Fernandez had a little bit of everything in his performance, including multiple costume changes and having a bucket of water dumped on him. At one point during the Sochi gala, all of the participants even performed a number together.
For many, watching the exhibition gala offers an opportunity to see their favorite figure skaters fully express themselves creatively. Indeed, Pixie Casey of Rookie likely epitomized the sentiments of many when she wrote in 2013 about how meaningful it is for her to watch skating galas:
It is just a joy ... to watch these people really indulge in what they love. These performances are the ones that can spark someone’s interest in (or love of) a sport, making them dream of their own no-rules routines, outlandish costumes, and signature songs.
For many figure skaters, the exhibition gala also often holds special meaning. For example, back in 2014, the United States' gold medal-winning ice dancing duo, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, performed to "Adagio" from Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff at the gala. White told Sports Illustrated at the time that the duo selected their gala program as a way of expressing love for the sport from their unique perspective as Olympic gold medalists.
"Our program was about the joy that we now feel as skaters," White said to the magazine. "We've come such a long way and the joy that we have as Olympic champions — it's our message of loving figure skating."
Of course, some figure skaters at this year's Olympics in PyeongChang still have to finish competing before they begin their gala preparation. While most of the sport's events have already concluded, the women's figure skating free skate competition will take place on Thursday night (Friday morning in South Korea), and the women will vie for medals.
After a long and exhilarating Olympic games, many skaters are likely looking forward to letting loose a bit and showcasing their talents without the pressure of judges and scores — and to sharing their unbridled passion for the sport with PyeongChang's audience.