Yuri!!! on ICE: behind Victor’s quad fest

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When I finally caught the first episode of the long-awaited Yuri!!! on ICE last Thursday, what surprised me most was the content of Victor’s free skate. The commentator in the show helpfully named all of the major jumps, that is, his four quads: a quad lutz, his signature quad flip, a quad salchow and a quad toe in combination. As figure skating fans would know, that jump content alone is insane: although Nathan Chen successfully pulled off two quad salchows and two quad toes at the US Nationals in January this year, no one has ever successfully landed four different quadruple jumps in a single program in competition. In fact, we have yet to see anyone land four different quads separately at qualifying competitions!1

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Over the last 3-4 years, figure skating fans have seen an acceleration in the technical content male skaters cram into their programs. The origins of this “jump revolution,” as some might call it, lie in the changes made to the scoring system after the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. Prior to that, competitors were ranked by judges in relation to each other, with 6.0 given to the top performance(s) of the day. This encouraged conservative skating, because a single stumble could mean the difference between silver and gold. Hence, even though the quadruple toe was successfully landed in competition in the late 1980s, on a stage no less worthy than the 1988 World Championships, it would take another 10 years before the box for the next quad—the salchow—was ticked off the list. Even then, the top skaters would choose to err on the side of caution if their victory was already secured, as Alexei Yagudin demonstrated at the 2002 Winter Games:

However, the scoring system was changed in response to a judging scandal at those very Games, resulting in the current system that attempts balance between appreciation of jumping prowess and more subjective elements such as choreography and interpretation. It was further revised in 2010 to reflect how much more difficult it is to pull off the higher-level jumps.2 The significant rewards now available for quadruple jumps—along with Patrick Chan’s dominance on the more subjective side of the sport from 2011-2013—have encouraged skaters to push their physical boundaries, aided by growing use of computer simulations. Following Brandon Mroz’s successful execution of the quadruple lutz in 2011, Japan’s two top skaters have, just this year, checked off the next two quads:

The Quad Flip:

The Quad Loop:

This leaves just the quadruple axel, which is especially difficult because the front-facing takeoff means that it involves four and a half revolutions instead of just four.3 But top skaters and coaches expect someone to get there relatively soon, quite possibly a member of the current generation. However, at present, the top jumpers all only have three quads each: besides the toe and salchow, Yuzuru Hanyu has the loop, Boyang Jin the lutz and Shōma Uno the flip.4 Nathan Chen almost has the lutz and the flip, and it’ll be interesting to see if he lands both cleanly this season. That would give him Victor’s full repertoire, though landing them all cleanly in the same program in competition would involve jumping over a much, much higher bar.

As for the ladies, the only woman to land a ratified quad was Miki Andō, who is credited with a successful quad salchow at the JGP final in 2002, though it’s apparently under-rotated. Technically, the triple axel remains the jump that women attempt in order to differentiate themselves, although the broad consensus is that successfully pulling off a triple-triple jumping pass is what distinguishes the top female skaters from the rest. And more importantly, there has been a lot of emphasis on the more subjective elements of their programs as well—choreography, interpretation and even how expressively they perform.

Current ladies World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva (source: the Japan Times)

Given these developments, fans and commentators have started debating whether this “quad revolution” has been beneficial for the men’s side of the sport. In the early days after Evan Lysacek’s controversial quad-less win over Evgeni Plushenko at the 2010 Vancouver Games, quads were lauded for making figure skating more exciting to watch. Even at this year’s US nationals, Adam Rippon’s win despite a fall on his sole quad attempt drew comments that US judges were “stuck in the past”. But coming in to bat for the other side, even former proponents now lament that many programs are about moving from one jump to the next, with less attention being paid to improving basic skating skills and artistry.

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However, it remains true that quads are more exciting for casual viewers, especially when combined with exquisite footwork and artistry. Hanyu and Javier Fernandez, in particular, are pushing the envelope in all aspects of the sport, raising the bar with each passing year. So, we may well see a real-life Victor in the very near future. And as we approach the limits of what the human body seems to be able to handle, perhaps women’s figure skating offers some insights as to where the sport will head next: back to polishing basic skills, artistry and the passion they weave into their performances. Whatever your position on that debate, it is arguably a fantastic time to be a skating fan. Especially if you also love anime, like me.

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  1. Chen has apparently landed both the quad lutz and the quad flip at a local club competition, though with some minor flaws like being off-balance on at least one of the landings. I’d assume he is landing each quad regularly in practice, for he wouldn’t be attempting them all in competition otherwise. But I highly doubt he’s managed to pull off one perfect run-through of that free program yet…we shall see how he goes as the season continues. 
  2. Source, which is also a more detailed overview of the evolution of the sport over the years. 
  3. In terms of difficulty, the toe-loop is the easiest jump and the axel the most difficult. Going by the base point values: toe-loop (T) ~ salchow (S) < loop (Lo) ~ flip < lutz (Lz) < axel (A). Triple-jumps (three full revolutions in the air) are quite challenging, and quads even more so. 
  4. I’m going with conventions in the skating world for their names, so it’s always first name before surname. I’d also assume that all of these skaters are attempting at least one more quad jump in practice, though we haven’t seen official signs of that – no top skater will reveal something they’re not landing consistently in practice. For example, Brian Orser has indicated that Hanyu is working on a quad lutz, but he has yet to attempt it in front of a public audience. Skaters have done this for years – I believe there’s even a video of Orser himself practicing a quad lutz(?) 20-plus years ago!  

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist in training. I also love musicals, photography, travel and believe it or not, the game of cricket. よろしく!

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