Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The History Of Quadruple Jumps


Four revolution jumps... to skaters back in Ulrich Salchow and Gillis Grafström's days, they wouldn't have wouldn't have even been comprehensible. However, as we all know, under the current IJS system they're the name of the game. From Dick Button performing the first triple jump to Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden's introduction of the first twist lift, overhead lasso lift and throw jump to the majestic video of David Jenkins doing a gorgeous triple Axel in 1957, figure skating history is of course full of technical innovations and the history of the evolution of quadruple jumps is really quite a fascinating story.

Back in the late seventies and early eighties, a small circle of American skaters took the plunge at attempting quadruple jumps. Robert Wagenhoffer was landing them in practice and Mark Cockerell was attempting them in competition, but the first quad attempts in major international competitions didn't come until 1983, when the Soviet Union's Alexandr Fadeev went for the gusto at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

Around the time that quadruple jumps were first being attempted, not everyone was sold on the push for technical progress. In an interview in the December-January 1979 issue of the "Canadian Skater" magazine, 1976 Olympic Bronze Medallist Toller Cranston lamented, "I know that the trend today is that a male competitive skater has to do in the neighbourhood of four... five... six to eight triples, which makes no sense to me at all... It becomes a big, fat bore. You forget those performances. The performances you really remember are the emotional ones... I agree that in some ways it is a very authentic progression. But it's not the only progression. It's only one kind. For example, I always remember going to the Moscow Circus where I saw people do things that defy the ability of the human body - they practically turned themselves inside out, they stood on one finger, and so on. But after about three-quarters of an hour, I left in the middle of the performance. Yes, it was phenomenal and unbelievable, and I had never seen anything like it before. But then suddenly I became aware that, gee, these seats are uncomfortable, I have no room for my feet. The point is that when I left, I had forgotten everything. I had not been impressed emotionally. But to my dying day I'll remember some of the performances I saw of the Bolshoi Ballet. I can't tell you what they did, but I have visions, and my body sort of surges up with emotions because I FELT something." Despite Toller's reservations about the jump race, his successors persevered at going for the technical gusto.


Controversy persists to this day as to when the first quad jump was actually landed in international competition. Officially, the ISU recognizes Kurt Browning's quadruple toe-loop at the 1988 World Championships as the first. However, the March 26, 1988 edition of The Bangor Daily News notes that "[Jozef] Sabovcik was believed to have landed one at the 1986 European Championships. But a review of the tapes revealed that he grazed the ice on his free leg and the jump was disallowed." In a December 2008 interview on The Manleywoman SkateCast, Sabovcik explained, "I know what I did, and Kurt and I, people thought we were at each other's throats about this, but Kurt’s a really good friend of mine. I respect him as a skater and I think he respects me as a skater. I did what I did, and mine wasn’t by any means perfect, but neither was his. The ISU makes their decisions and that's how it is. They usually don't go back on anything they rule. Scott Hamilton told me, he was there, they made a video that showed the landing from a certain angle, and when he heard the ruling, he offered them the tape from, I think it was, ABC, and [the ISU] simply refused it because they had made their ruling." In his 1991 book "Kurt: Forcing The Edge", Kurt Browning talked with candor about his own historic accomplishment: "I'd been landing quads in practice for a couple of years. I'd landed them in Cincinnati and tried them here and there, whenever I felt the chance existed. Other people were landing them too. But there are two important distinctions that put my name into skating history. I was the first to land a quad perfectly and cleanly - landing on one foot, not two - at a recognized, sanctioned skating event. Not fooling around in practice, not on springy ice, not on a pond in the middle of nowhere without a battery of judges around. That is why my name is in the Guinness Book Of World Records. I was the first to do it. I won't be the last. Let's be clear about this. Skating folklore is rich with jumps that never happened, real fish stories. According to legend, there have been quad Salchows and fantastic combination leaps. Perhaps people were landing quads in some manner in the 1940s, because that's when the rumors began to circulate. [Sabovcik]'s one of the most exciting jumpers I've ever seen. Boitano did a perfect quad in practice in St. Gervais. I've seen Orser do them. But I was the first to hit one when it counted."


The first quadruple attempt from a woman came in 1990, when exuberant French skater Surya Bonaly went for the gusto and tried both a quad toe-loop and quad Salchow at the European Championships. She ultimately continued to tackle the jump sporadically until 1996 before abandoning it entirely. That same year, Alexei Urmanov became the first Soviet skater to land a quad in competition at the Soviet Championships.

The first attempt of a quad jump in combination came in 1991, when Michael Chack tackled a one-foot Axel/quad Salchow combination at the U.S. Championships, two footing the landing of the second jump. In his 2014 Skate Guard interview, Chack said "as far as my quad, I just loved jumping and trying different things and pushing skating limits." Weeks later, Elvis Stojko landed the first quad combination at the 1991 World Championships - a clean quad toe/double toe. The following year at the Albertville Olympics, Petr Barna landed the first quad jump, a toe-loop, in Olympic competition.


For much of the mid nineties, Elvis Stojko was quad king, ruling the roost when it came to his consistency in landing quad after quad in both national and international competition. At the 1996 Champions Series Final, he again made history by landing the first quad/triple combination in competition. At that event alone, three different skaters (Stojko, Urmanov and Ilia Kulik) all landed quads. The quad race was on. By the 1997 World Championships, Chinese phenom Zhengxin Guo was landing both a quad toe on its own and a quad toe/double toe combination. This gave him the distinction of being both the first skater to land two quads in one program and the first to put a quad and a quad combination successfully in one free skate. Stojko, of course, repeated his quad/triple event at those same World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.


In 1998, American skaters starting reclaiming their place in the quad race (see what I did there?) when Michael Weiss made the first quad Lutz attempts at the 1998 U.S. Championships and 1998 Winter Olympics. That same year, Timothy Goebel became the first person to land a quad Salchow, the first to land a quad Salchow in combination and the first American skater to land a quad combination when he pulled off a clean quad Salchow/double toe combination at the Junior Champions Series Final. The feat was so unexpected in the junior ranks that it took the ISU nearly a month to ratify Goebel's effort. Ilia Kulik, in his 1998 Nagano free skate, also became the first Olympic Gold Medallist to include a quad in his winning free skate.

At the ISU's Biennial Congress in June 1998, a rule change was made permitting (male) skaters to attempt quads in their short programs. Canadian Derek Schmidt was the first to go for it - in two summer competitions in Canada - but didn't he land them cleanly. Elvis Stojko went for it at that year's Skate America but he too was unsuccessful. The first clean quad in a short program came from China's Min Zhang, who landed a quad toe in the short program at the 1999 Four Continents Championships. However, the most significant milestone of that season in terms of the quad race was the first program to include three quadruple jumps, an incredible accomplishment Timothy Goebel achieved at Skate America in October 1998. During the 2001/2002 season, Min Zhang again made history as the first skater to land three quadruple jumps in his Olympic free skate and Evgeni Plushenko landed the first quad/triple/triple (toe/toe/loop) at the Cup Of Russia. He would repeat that feat in his winning 2006 Olympic free skate in Torino.


The first woman to land a ratified quad was Miki Ando of Japan at the 2001 Junior Grand Prix Final and first to land three clean quads in competition under the "new" judging system was France's Brian Joubert, who pulled off a quad toe/double toe, quad toe and quad Salchow at the 2006 Cup Of Russia. In 2010, Kevin Reynolds became the first skater to land two different quads in one short program at Skate Canada International.


The race to include even more difficult quadruple jumps has been nothing short of compelling. Jumping aficionados worldwide - particularly in Russia and Asia - leave us constantly questioning both the laws of physics and reason. Here's the reality. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are landing throw quad Salchows and Lutzes; skaters are attempting quad Axels in harnesses... and while it leaves our jaws on the floors to watch, the pounding that these skaters bodies are taking is just insanity. That said, the pounding ALL skaters bodies take is insanity. I should know; I don't skate anymore and my back and feet are still a mess... and believe me, I wasn't trying quads sweetie.

The real question as we look back on the history of quads in figure skating isn't the past but the future. In February 2014, "Scientific American" published a fantastic article about the possibility of quintuple jumps. In the piece, University Of Delaware biomechanist James Richards is quoted as saying that "the quad is the physical limit. To do a quint, we would have to have somebody built like a pencil, and they can't get much smaller than they already are." Scientists say a lot of things. I don't know about you, but I'm not ready to discount quints just yet. Figure skating is really 'figure jumping' these days and with the progress that's being made on the technical side every day and new coaching technology, I choose to just sit back, be amazed and sincerely hope nobody gets hurt.

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3 comments:

  1. I understand the drive to do more - to be the first to accomplish something - to be best etc but I agree with Toller. For me there has to be "meaning" to what we are doing. A balance of the analytical and the aesthetic sides of the human being. We all understand there is, the more artistic skater, and the more technical skater, but why are the artistic skaters so much memorable? Because they made you actually feel something in your heart, the organic human side of us, not the robot. Figure Skating is becoming extremely demanding and that is why you must be very well conditioned to be able to withstand the impacts on the body during a skating career and for afterwards, to enjoy the rest of your life when skating or at least competing is over. So many skaters have had hip replacements, I know because my left hip has been replaced 3 times...I know my knee is in need too and my back also has problems. Coaches must be educated to know how to condition the body to be strong enough and be well coordinated to achieve these quads and future quints. Are coaches being a sadistic and and skaters being a masochistic in their fight to compete to be the best. This sounds very extreme but in actual fact it is not far off. To achieve a quad or triple axel or a quint is extreme. There are other ways of being better in my mind by inventing new difficulties without the physical damage. Imagination must be allowed to prove that this is what we need right now. “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
    ― Albert Einstein and “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”
    ― Albert Einstein and “Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
    ― Maria Montessori
    Thank you for reading my comment.
    Lorna Brown

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    1. Could not agree with you more, Lorna... and I'm in total agreement with both you and Toller on this too. I almost sincerely hope I never see a quint, to be honest. As I've said to you, skating is drawing more and more of a 'gymnastics' fan base due to the way it is being judged and presented... and that's in my mind also a concerning trend. I'm all for 'progress' but it's important that both sides of the spectrum - the technical and artistic - are developed evenly, not in a lopsided way. Thank you for so eloquently making a statement that needs to be considered so thoroughly.

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