Every sport has its share of controversial, impossible-to-explain strange rules. Figure skating is no exception and a good example is the ban of backflips in official competitions. Instead of congratulating the few athletes that can perform them, the ISU (International Skating Union) decided to simply forbid the figure in competitions. Why such a rule? Should/Can it be removed? But let us start with some general information about the backflips.

Sury BonalyCredit: Uwe Langer

Surya Bonaly, famous for landing backflips on one foot

1. What are backflips in Figure Skating?

The backflip is a flip on a horizontal axis (versus a vertical axis for loops/axels/salchows..) performed with the body rotating in the backwards rotation. Below is an example (the first part  is a backflip, the second part is a triple axel).

2. When did the ban start?

Actually the backflip became forbidden quite quickly, the same year it was performed for the first time (in 1976 by Terry Kubicka). To this day, the ban was never lifted.

Performing backflips during ice skating shows, galas, etc is allowed but a skater would be penalized if he/she were to perform one in an official competition.

Quoting the latest "Special Regulations & Technical Rules" from 2012: 

Illegal elements/movements
These are:
– somersault type jumps;

Interesting enough, the exact wording "backflip" or "back flip" does not appear in these rules.

3. Which skaters can perform backflips?

There is no official list of skaters able to perform a backflip but many are known to be able to do it, for example:

Terry Kubicka (first one)
Brian Orser
Michael Weiss
Robin Cousins
Surya Bonaly (first and probably only one that can land it on one foot)
Ryan Bradley
Scott Cramer

Below a video of Michael Weiss performing a backflip with a twist.

4. Why are backflips banned?

Why would the ISU forbid this figure? Quite quickly, people started to say it was because the landing was on two feet contrary to other jumps. I have not found any official statement about it and this is clearly a bad argument for at least two reasons:

- backflips could have been added as separate elements and not as jumps (jumps, spins, arabesques and backflips)

- Surya Bonaly performed a backflip while landing on one foot and this did not change anything about the ban.


5. So, should backflips be allowed?

It is important to note that not later than in 2010, did the ISU change some rules about ice dancing (by merging 2 events in one). So, rules are not impossible to change in this sport.

However, I would personally be careful about removing this ban. Here are my reasons:

- this figure is risky. There are other risky elements in figure skating but for most head injuries are unlikely. And, the fact that lifts in pair skating are also very risky, for example, would be more in favor for banning them, than in favor for lifting the ban about backflips. One example of how bad this can be is the accident Philippe Candeloro had in 1994 (look for it on youtube if you are not too sensible). If backflips were to become a regular figure skaters need to have in their program, there would be many more ice skating accidents, some with head injuries.

- this is very subjective, but I feel that backflips are purely acrobatic and do not add any artistic values to this event. Of course, this could be said about triple jumps vs double jumps but adding a new figure just for acrobatic purpose is maybe going too far.

This concludes this article about backflips in Figure Skating. I hope this was of interest for you and don't hesitate to leave a comment.

If you are interested in the Olympic Games in general, don't hesitate to have a look at my article about the History of the Olympics.