To quad or not to quad

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VANCOUVER — Of all the problems figure skating has — and there are many — this is the biggest: The sport has zero direction.

That’s why there is this global fight over the quad jump.

No one knows what an Olympic champion is supposed to look like anymore under this still new and always head-scratching Code of Points scoring system?


Canadian Patrick Chan is one of many figure skaters reluctant to break out a quadruple jump during competition. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI AGENCY)


Is the new mug of men’s skating the same as the old one? Is it Russian Evgeni Plushenko, the supreme jumper who pays lip service to the new world of transitions and artistic skating but can’t fathom an Olympic champ without a quad?

“I will do the quad in any case,” he said of two planned for Thursday’s free skate. “I believe the quad is the future. It is necessary. Some might say we should do other things, but in my opinion not doing the quad will be going backwards in time.”

The future of figure skating is, in many people’s eyes, supposed to be the way Canadian Patrick Chan does it. He isn’t willing to risk a quad jump yet, but racks up points on almost every other movement he makes.

Or American world champion Evan Lysacek, who isn’t doing a quad in Vancouver but remains in perfect position to pluck Plushenko’s crown right from his mullet of blond hair.

“I’ve spent a lot of time working on every aspect of training,” he said. “If you asked a speed skater if one stroke is more important than the rest, they would tell you no. For me, each stroke, each jump, each step, each spin is equally important.

“I’m going to try to maximize my points.”

Plushenko believes without the greatest risk, there shouldn’t be great reward.

His coach Alexei Mishin repeated the Olympic motto — Faster, Higher Stronger — in Russian. He said there is shame in not being able to land a quad when “(Elvis) Stojko and (Alexei) Urmanov have done it 10 years before.”

“Triples?” Plushenko said almost dismissively. “In the ’80s skaters did doubles, then triple Axels, then the quad. I was doing triples in 1994 (when he was 12). Look at other sports. Speed skating. New times. Biathlon. New times. I think we have stopped.

“Of course, we need transitions. Of course, that’s important. I think for the future we need the quad Salchow, quad flip, quad Lutz.

“But that’s for the future.”

Plushenko’s detractors claim that, other than his jumps, he is a boring skater. David Pelletier said there’s nothing of substance, just some fancy arm-waving.

But there is no arguing his leaping ability is utterly athletic. The way sprinter Usain Bolt has made us all imagine a nine-second 100-metre dash is possible, Plushenko’s effortless quad suggests, one day, a successful five-rotation jump is not out of the question.

But again, what does figure skating deem as its athletic pinnacle?

In practice, Lysacek has run through his programs from beginning to end since his arrival in Vancouver. He feels like he needs to keep his cardio training up.

The free skate is, to many, the same as running the mile or a 1,500-metre race. If you don’t have the fuel in the tank for the frantic final 90 seconds or a complex footwork sequence, the program will wind up a disaster.

An extra rotation on a jump early on, they contend, won’t be enough to save them in the judges’ eyes.

And this is where the sport has struggled to define itself post-Salt Lake City.

There is a great divide on what great skating is.

Until an Olympic champion comes along that has it all, the fractured debate rages on.

For that great skater is not here in Vancouver.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

THE QUAD

— A figure skating jump with at least four, but less than five, revolutions.

— The first was landed in competition by Canadian Kurt Browning at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary in 1988.

— The toe loop, which is the most commonly attempted quad, is toe-pick assisted and involves taking off and landing on the same backward outside edge of the blade.

— There were five planned for Tuesday’s Olympic men’s figure skating short program. Only one — Russian Evgeni Plushenko, who combined it with a triple toe — landed his perfectly clean.

— The jump has been described as requiring the hang time of a Michael Jordan slam dunk but with the risk-reward factor of an onside kick in football. If a skater isn’t confident he or she can land it every time, it’s considered too risky to have in a program for the Olympics.

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