A Comprehensive List of the Best Figure Skaters of All Time
The 2018 Winter Olympic Games are well underway, and the second-ever figure skating team event has already come to a conclusion. Medals have been awarded (the U.S. took bronze, if you're curious), but skating fans still have much to look forward to with the individual events.
The excitement and anticipation over who will best the Olympic competition has caused many who love the sport to beg the question: Just who is the best figure skater of all time?
It's a subjective ask with equally subjective answers, but we've rounded up some indisputably high-caliber skaters whom we think fit the bill, in alphabetical order by first name.
Let's glide through, shall we?
BRIAN BOITANO (1988 OLYMPIC CHAMPION)
Boitano is an American singles skater who won gold at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, against intense competition from Brian Orser (the first man to land a triple axel at the Olympics) in a face-off that has been dubbed the "Battle of the Brians." This Olympic duel was called "the single greatest athletic battle" of the year's Games by the International Olympic Committee.
Both Brians were effectively tied going into the free program, but Boitano landed eight triple jumps in a single program and took home the gold.
CAROL HEISS (1960 OLYMPIC CHAMPION)
American skater Heiss dominated women's figure skating during her competitive career with her elegant moves, winning both the U.S. and World Championships each year leading up to the 1960 Winter Olympics. She is also the first female skater to land a double axel jump, which she did in 1953. After retiring from competitive skating, she delved into acting.
Charlie White and Meryl Davis (2014 Olympic Champions)
If you watched the Sochi Olympics (or the 18th season of Dancing With the Stars), you’ll surely recognize this dynamic ice dancing pair, though their notoriety has nothing to do with why they're on this list. As a pair, Davis and White are both the longest lasting ice dance team in the United States and the only ones to ever win Olympic gold, effectively redefining competitive ice dancing for our age. Their charm and athletic prowess led them to Olympic gold, silver, and team bronze medals, and an additional two World Championship gold medals.
Dick Button (1948 and 1952 Olympic Champion)
Button is a figure skater who is still the only American to win the European skating champions. He won seven straight U.S. championships starting when he was 16 years old, and he's been a prominent analyst of the sport since retiring after his back-to-back Olympic gold medal wins.
He was the first skater ever to land a double axel during a performance, and the first to land a triple jump in competition, and he's the only man to simultaneously hold Olympic, World, European, North American, and U.S. National titles, making him one of the greatest of all time.
GILLIS GRAFSTRÖM (1920, 1924, 1928 OLYMPIC CHAMPION)
Grafström was a Swedish figure skater who earned more Olympic medals than any figure skater in history and was known for inventing many of the moves enjoyed at the Olympics today, including the spiral, the flying sit spin, and the change sit spin.
He's also only one of two athletes in history who won gold medals in both the Winter and Summer Olympics, since the 1920 Summer Olympic games featured a week of winter sports. At his first Olympics in Antwerp, one of his skates broke, and he had to buy a pair of curly-toed skates from town because they were the only ones available. Even so, he won.
Irina Rodnina (1980, 1976, and 1972 Olympic Pairs Champion)
It might seem odd to have a single pairs skater by herself on this list, but it isn’t odd if you look at USSR skater Irina Rodnina’s track record. She won the gold in pairs skating throughout several games with different partners, and between them, she won every competition she took part in over a period of 11 years.
Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (1984 Olympic Champions)
British ice dancing duo Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were the pair to break the Russian dominance over ice dancing, and their Olympic program Bolero is so astonishingly great that it arguably changed the skating world forever. It received completely perfect scores.
JOHN CURRY (1976 OLYMPIC CHAMPION)
British skater John Curry was one of the most distinctive and stylistic skaters to ever grace the ice, and his elegant artistry made him a fierce competitor. In addition to winning the men's gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, he was also given the highest point total in the history of men's figure skating.
KRISTI YAMAGUCHI (1992 OLYMPIC CHAMPION)
It's difficult to decide where to begin with American skater Kristi Yamaguchi, whose career has inspired many to skate, including 2018 Olympian Karen Chen. Yamaguchi was the first Asian American to win gold in the Olympics, though she revealed to InStyle ahead of the Pyeongchang games that she didn't even know it at the time.
"It’s funny because at the time I didn't even know I was the first until it was reported on the news," she said. "It’s cool though! I love when young skaters come up to me and say that I’ve inspired them to take up the sport."
The combination of her talent and all-American grace helped her become a fan favorite for millions around the world, and even now she continues to contribute to the skating world as an NBC commentator and skating mentor.
Despite winning World's every year in between the 1988 Olympics and the 1992 Olympics, Canadian skater Kurt Browning didn't take home an Olympic medal, but that in no way diminishes his impressive legacy. Browning landed the first quadruple jump ever in a competition, and his skill matched with his impressive ice footwork helped him become a four-time World Champion. Since retiring from competing, he's choreographed programs for everyone from Tara Lipinski to Patrick Chan.
Michelle Kwan (1998 Olympic Silver Medalist, 2002 Olympic Bronze Medalist)
American skater Michelle Kwan never took home a gold medal from the Olympics, but her legacy cannot be compared. For almost a straight decade, she made the podium of the World Championships (including Olympic years), and she was the first skater since Dick Button to win the prestigious James E. Sullivan Award for American athletes.
Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov (1968 and 1964 Olympic Champions)
The Protopopovs were a husband and wife duo of Russian pairs skaters who were known for their balletic style. Their win in 1964 is credited as starting the longest winning streak for a country in Winter Olympics history, with 12 consecutive gold medals won by Soviet and Russian pairs skaters over a span of 42 years. They skated well into their 70s and trained for hours each day.
Patrick Chan (2018 Olympic Team Champion)
Canada's Patrick Chan is on the minds of many after capturing the gold medal in the skating team event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, where he placed first in the men's free portion, but his work extends beyond that. The three-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist returned to competition after a year hiatus, and he has set world records for his short and free skating programs.
Peggy Fleming (1968 Olympic Champion)
American Peggy Fleming was one of the most prominent women in figure skating, particularly after her 1968 win at the Olympic games in Grenoble, where she won the only gold for the U.S. of the entire competition. When Fleming was 12, her coach and the rest of the United States figure skating team were killed in a plane crash on the way to the 1961 World Championships. Her medal in 1968 signified a triumphant American return to the sport after such tragedy.
Scott Hamilton (1984 Olympic Champion)
Even if you haven't heard of American skater Scott Hamilton's impressive skating track record—he won an Olympic medal in addition to four consecutive U.S. and World Championships, NBD—you probably have heard his voice. He is a skating commentary staple, and will continue reporting for NBCSN during the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Sonja Henie (1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympic Champion)
Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie was not only a champion, but she also helped define the sport of figure skating itself. She made her Olympic debut at an astonishingly young 11 years old and had to ask her coach mid-routine what to do next in between moves, but after a last-place finish that year, she became unstoppable.
With 10 straight World Championships under her belt (a record that has not been broken to this day), she was a figure skating star. After her competitive career, she continued to be a star, only in movies and ice tours that helped the sport gain popularity instead.