As the US Figure Skating Championships begin later this week in Kansas City, Missouri, much interest will be devoted to 17-year-old Nathan Chen after his dazzling display of three different quadruples (two toes, a lutz and flip) in his gold medal long program in the Senior Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France last month. Will Chen do it again? Will he add the quad salchow, which those in the figure skating community know he can do and make it five? How far off is he from a long program full of quadruple jumps?
In fact, several Icenetwork articles have discussed this subject with many of the greats of our sport. Even Chen himself commented when asked by a journalist about a quadruple axel, “The quad axel is not impossible; I’ve seen Max Aaron do a quad axel with a harness, and Yuzuru has a great triple axel, so maybe he can add one more rotation.” Even World and Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu offered, “I’ll train it, and, if possible, I’ll include it in competition.”
Clearly, 2016 has been a landmark year for quads. Not since 2011, when 2009 US Silver Medalist and World Team member Brandon Mroz landed the first quad lutz has a new jump been landed in competition — and we have had two new jumps by two Japanese men: the flip by Shoma Uno and the loop by Yuzuru Hanyu. So naturally, it begs the question when will a man land a quad axel?
To put it in perspective, the 4A is worth 15 points if landed, roughly 1/5 of the average men’s technical element score for the long program (75 pts.) and a little less than half of the average men’s TES for the short program (35 pts). With a fall (-3) but actually four points off, the 4A is still worth more than a landed 4S or 4T and almost as much as a 4Lo or 4F. Clearly, the International Skating Union has made it worth the risk.
Videos of quad axel attempts in the pole harness can be found on the internet by Max Aaron and Australian Brendan Kerry. Even a doctored 4A video by Singapore’s Mark Leung has over 200,000 hits on YouTube. But probably the best attempt is by Russian Artur Dmitriev, Jr., whose father is two-time Olympic pair champion of the same name — off the pole — and clearly with enough rotation all on his own.
Having coached Mroz to his achievement, I watched as he managed not only the lutz, but the loop and flip and toe on a daily basis for about one month in the late summer of 2011 (he never landed the sal though he would occasionally try it). I remember being in the audience at the NHK press conference when he was asked how he did it and he spoke about wanting to learn all of the quads like he had learned all of the triples. In fact, Brandon and I had many conversations about learning them all — even the axel — especially on days when his 3A was feeling easy and floating and the timing was effortless — because as he always said and I paraphrase, “I never thought I wouldn’t learn all of my triples just because everyone told me triples were harder than doubles, so one day I thought why not apply the same mentality to quads?”
Having worked the past two years with Max Aaron for brief periods of time on the 4A and watching 2015 World Team member Josh Farris resume performing his beautiful 3A which flies effortlessly through the air, I definitely think it’s possible and will surely happen someday. During the last month I have been helping 16-year-old Vincent Zhou with many of his quadruples and there are days when I can see “it” in his 3A. As soon as he is stronger to achieve a bit more airtime, the timing, technique and super tight rotating position are already there — as is the desire! Even though it took 10 years between Kurt Browning’s first 4T and Timothy Goebel’s first 4S and then 13 years before Mroz did the lutz, it has taken only 5 years for the loop and flip to be landed. Now that those barriers have been broken, it is only a matter of time before the 4A is achieved. In the meantime, skating fans all over the world will be waiting for the day when the 4A is landed in competition and quintuples are added to the ISU scale of values.