Tuesday, January 10, 2012
What is a Quad?
When I moved to the Carolinas from Massachusetts, I realized the term “Quad” means four-wheeler (or ATV for the off-road enthusiasts) to most locals. Even in the Boston area, where ice rinks abound, people think quads have something to do with muscles. In the skating world however, a quadruple jump, commonly called a quad, is the most difficult element in figure skating.
Why so hard? Because the skater must jump into the air, make four full revolutions (4 ½ for an Axel—and no, an Axel isn’t part of the ATV), and land cleanly on a blade of metal only one-tenth of an inch wide.
To complicate matters, there are six different types of quad jumps possible, although no skater has yet landed a quadruple Axel in competition. So how do you tell the jumps apart? It’s tough. Those announcers who sound so savvy on television have cheat sheets—and they’ve watched the skaters do the same routines in practice.
To simplify things, let’s think of jumps in three different categories. While you may not be able to always distinguish the specific jump, with a little practice you can easily recognize the type of jump. The first category includes the toe jumps. The skater vaults off the toe pick, or the "teeth" on the front of the skate blade. This category includes toe loops (the easiest of the easy jumps) the flip, and the Lutz (the second most difficult jump), named for its originator Alois Lutz. The primary difference between the toe jumps is the edge (the way the skater is leaning) used for take-off and landing. Even skating enthusiasts (me included) often can’t tell the difference between the two, especially when watching skaters on television. Why? The jump happens too fast and the camera typically doesn’t focus on the skater’s foot.
The next set of jumps are the edge jumps and the skater does not use the toe pick. The three edge jumps include the loop, the flip, the Salchow, and the Axel.
The most difficult jump is the Axel, named after the jump’s originator Axel Paulsen. This jump is easily recognizable because it’s the only jump where the skater is facing forward when the jump starts. Facing forward also means adding a ½ revolution to the air time so a single axel actually has 1.5 rotations.
Canadian Kurt Browning attempted the first quad in 1979 but it took him nine more years to land one in competition. The jump has to be landed cleanly (on one foot, facing the correct direction, and on the correct edge) to count. Kurt was also the first (and so far, only) person to land the quadruple Axel (the hardest quad jump) although I don’t think it was in a competition. Timothy Goebel was the first American to land a quad, the first to land a quad Salchow, and the first to land three quads in one program. Last September, Brandon Mroz (the 2009 US Men's Silver Medalist) executed the first quad lutz (the most difficult jump landed in a sanctioned competition).
Women are attempting quads too. Bonaly of France landed numerous under-rotated quads in the 1990s. Under-rotation means the rotation in the air is incomplete and the foot is not in the correct position when the skater lands. Under-rotated jumps are not considered quads in the record books. However, Miki Ando of Japan landed a sanctioned quadruple jump seven years ago.
Next time: More on the quad and why the jump is so controversial.