World First Look

Does a focus on jumps in Olympic figure skating diminish the art of the sport?

As more male figure skaters add quad jumps to their programs, some consider whether the emphasis on athleticism instead of grace has gone too far.

Nathan Chen from the US team skates at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Nagoya, Japan on Dec. 8, 2017. Mr. Chen's free skate routine included five quad jumps.
Issei Kato/Reuters
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Caption
  • Elaine Lies
    Reuters

To quad or not to quad would not even be a question for any man aiming for the podium at this year's Olympics, as more of the complicated jumps fill routines and bring in the points.

But how far the sport – and skaters' bodies – will go in pursuit of the jumps, which require four complete revolutions before landing, is unknown.

At the recent Grand Prix Final in Japan, Nathan Chen, who has steadily racked up jumping records this year, including landing seven clean quads at the US Championships this past spring, won the men’s competition with tries for at least five quads in his free skate.

Hot on his heels was Japan's Shoma Uno, the first skater to successfully land a quad flip in international competition, who ultimately won the free part of the competition with a quad-filled program but trailed Mr. Chen overall by half a point.

But both cleanly landed only a few of the quads, prompting questions about whether it was not smarter to lower the level of their programs in the interest of success.

"If you keep on putting quads into a program, it does kind of put your stability at risk," Mr. Uno told a news conference.

"But I don’t want to show the crowds perfection, I want to show them that I’m growing as a skater. So I’ll go on with the challenging routines."

Quad jumps have a 30-year history in competition, dating from Canada's Kurt Browning, who in 1988 became the first person to land a legal quadruple jump – a quad toeloop.

Since then, five different varieties of the high-risk jump have become such an essential part of men's skating that no man has won Olympic gold quadlessly since 1994 – with one exception.

That was US skater Evan Lysacek, who at the 2010 Vancouver Games defeated Russian defending champion Yevgeny Plushenko who said Mr. Lysacek had danced "rather than skating like a man."

Not everyone loves the trend towards athleticism required by the jumps.

Two-time US Olympian Johnny Weir, who confessed that when he was competing quads were his "nemesis," said he felt emphasis on the jumps – which command high points, especially in the second half of any program – has perhaps gone too far.

"It isn't as enjoyable to watch as it was from our era," Mr. Weir told Reuters in a telephone interview. "Now it seems skaters will try to do quads that they aren't comfortable with because of the points."

Defending Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain's Javier Fernandez, both of whom can land jumps and are beautiful skaters, have achieved a good balance of athleticism and artistry, he added, whereas quads tend to be "technique, mathematics, and body type."

Patrick Chan, who at 27 is one of the older skaters on the circuit and came second to Mr. Hanyu in Sochi, has also expressed reservations.

"Nathan's trump card is the quads, mine is a little more understated," he told Reuters in Toronto. "For me, it is the fact I have more experience. "

And the women may follow, though so far only retired Japanese skater Miki Ando has landed a quad in competition, at the junior level and back in 2002.

"I've noticed that the younger generation has started to actively study these jumps," Evgenia Medvedeva, who will be the gold medal favorite if she is able to compete at the Games, said at a Moscow news conference after a Grand Prix event.

"I think it's the next step of figure skating."

There is talk about possibly limiting the number of quads, but skaters oppose the idea. Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, who took bronze at the Grand Prix Final, said the jumps are important to add energy to routines, which attracts audiences.

But rather than capping the number of quads, perhaps more points should be given for other elements, US Olympian Adam Rippon told Reuters.

"I think if you made different point opportunities, you’d see different skaters come forward so it’s not just that a sloppy program with quads always wins," he said.

"It would be different skaters bringing different parts of skating. It’s not just jumps." 

This story was reported by Reuters.

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