10 Most Emotional Figure Skating Olympic Moments of All Time

From Sarah Hughes' gold medal win to Nancy Kerrigan's post-attack return, here are some of the most emotional figure skating moments in the history of the Winter Games

By Elyse Dupre Jan 18, 2018 11:00 AMTags
Olympic Figure Skating, Sarah Hughes, Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle KwanGetty Images

From triumphant triple axels to heartbreaking falls, there are a number of reasons figure skating is arguably the most emotional sport at the Winter Olympics. 

Ever since it became a permanent part of the Winter Games in 1924, the sport has created memorable moments that live beyond the rink. Who could forget when 16-year-old Sarah Hughes won the gold medal at the 2002 Olympics, or when Nancy Kerrigan took the ice for the first time after her attack?

In honor of the 2018 Winter Olympics, here's a roundup of 10 of the most emotional figure skating moments in Olympic history.

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1. 11-year-old Sonja Henie repeatedly stops her performance to ask her coach for advice at the 1924 Games

Sonja Henie was just 11 years old when she made her Olympic debut at the first Winter Games in Chamonix, France. According to the official website of the Olympic Games, the Norwegian skater had to stop her performance several times to ask her coach what she should do next. Even though she finished last, she didn't let this deter her from pursuing the gold. In fact, she won a total of three gold medals while competing at the 1928, 1932 and 1936 Games.


2. John Curry earns the highest point total in men's figure skating history at the 1976 Games

During the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, British skater John Curry skated to Ludwig Minkus' ballet Don Quixote and won the gold medal. According to the Olympic website, he earned 105.9 out of 108 points and still holds the highest point total in men's figure skating history. Sadly, Curry died in 1994 at the age of 44.

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3. Nancy Kerrigan returns to the ice for the 1994 Games after her attack

Weeks after Kerrigan suffered an attack that led to Tonya Harding's ban from U.S. figure skating, she returned to the ice to compete in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Kerrigan won the silver medal, falling behind Oksana Baiul from the Ukraine.

4. Tara Lipinski becomes the youngest athlete to win an individual event in Winter Games history at the 1998 Olympics

Tara Lipinski won more than a gold medal when she competed at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. She also won the hearts of viewers everywhere. After skating a stunning long program, the then 15-year-old Lipinski became the youngest athlete to win an individual event in Winter Games history.


5. Michelle Kwan makes her Olympic debut at the 1998 Games

1998 was also the year Michelle Kwan made her Olympic debut. The then 17-year-old athlete was favored to beat Lipinski and gave an incredible performance during the short program. After giving a stellar performance during her long program, Kwan left the ice to wait for her scores. She broke down in tears next to her coach Frank Carroll as she waited for the results. Kwan ended up taking the silver.

Kwan competed for the gold once more in the 2002 Olympics but won the bronze.

6. Sarah Hughes wins the gold medal in a surprise victory at the 2002 Games

At 16 years old, Hughes was the youngest member on America's ladies' figure skating team for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kwan was once again favored to win. However, Hughes gave an incredible performance and ended up tying with Irina Slutskaya from Russia for first place. It all came down to the judges' vote. The judges deemed Hughes the winner in a surprise victory.

7. Canada's David Pelletier and Jamie Salé share the gold with Russia's Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze after 2002 Scandal

According to an Olympic video recounting the scandal, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were looking to earn Russia's 11th consecutive gold medal in figure skating pairs at the 2002 Olympics; however, Canada's David Pelletier and Jamie Salé threatened that dream. After Pelletier and Salé fell from their final pose during their short program, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze pulled ahead. It all came down to the free skate. Sikharulidze stumbled a bit during the performance while Pelletier and Salé executed their routine immaculately. It seemed like Canada would bring home the gold. However, when the judges revealed their scores, the Canadians were shocked and disappointed to learn they had won silver.

Later on, French judge Marie-Reine le Gougne confessed to British official Sally Anne Stapleford she had been pressured by the French federation to vote for the Russians in exchange for Russia voting for France in ice dancing. After an investigation, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge revealed the two teams would share a joint gold medal. The pairs held hands as they accepted their gold medals, and the Olympic judging system was reformed.


8. Yuna Kim sets two records at the 2010 Games

While competing at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Yuna Kim gave a nearly flawless free skate performance. She was so overcome with emotion that she burst into tears. However, she was smiling from ear to ear when the judges revealed she had earned a new season's best of 150.06. This gave her a world record total of 228.56 points—an amount nobody has been able to beat, per Olympic.org. She also became the first female figure skater from the Republic of Korea to win a gold medal.

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9. Jeremy Abbott completes his performance after a dramatic fall at the 2014 Games

Jeremy Abbott took a nasty fall after attempting his first jump during the short program at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. The American athlete crashed into a wall and lay on his back in pain for about 10 seconds. Still, he did not give up. Abbott got up and completed his performance, landing three more jumps. The crowd gave him a standing ovation as he skated off the rink, wincing in pain. He scored a 72.58 for the program. Abbott announced his retirement from figure skating in 2017.

10. Evgeni Plushenko bows out due to injury and retires at the 2014 Games

After attempting a jump during the warm-up for his short program, Evgeni Plushenko suffered an injury and withdrew from the 2014 Games—forcing him to retire earlier than expected. The withdrawal occurred after Plushenko helped Russia win the gold medal in the team event. He had also won a silver medal at both the 2002 and 2010 Games and a gold medal at the 2006 games.

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