The beginning of the quad jump
Browning landed the first 20 years ago
|Kurt Browning was the first to land the quad in competition, and he did it for a car. (Getty Images)|
And it all started almost exactly twenty years ago, when Kurt Browning decided he really, really needed a car.
As the four-time world champion remembers it, he was inspired to try the quadruple toe loop after seeing other skaters do it in practice.
"I think I might have been in an ISU tour in Switzerland, back in 1987 or so," he said.
"Brian Boitano was practicing it, and we went to watch. And I just sort of started thinking, "It doesn't look that hard." Of course, one of the best free skaters in the world was doing it, and that's why it didn't look that hard. Anyway, I got inspired by that moment."
When Browning returned to his rink, the Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton, and his coach, Michael Jiranek, he began to work on the jump but kept his efforts a secret.
"I actually waited until everyone else had left the rink and then put my skates back on and went out by myself to practice it," he recalled.
"It was sort of unknown territory back then. I didn't want everyone thinking that I thought I was a hot shot. And then when I got it to the point where I was sort of two-footing it consistently, or maybe even landing it a little bit, I showed it to my coach one day."
At Skate Canada in October 1987, Browning attempted the quad for the first time in competition, missing it. At the 1988 Canadian Championships, Jiranek told him he couldn't try the quad unless his free program had been clean, so after missing a triple Axel, Browning didn't go for it. Still, he placed second to Brian Orser and qualified for the 1988 Olympic team in Calgary.
"At the Olympics, it was more of a reward that my coach dangled in front of me," Browning said. "He said, 'If you have a great skate, you can try it at the end of the program.' So with everything done, I went down the ice at the four-minute mark, or whatever it was, and tried it. And I had it for a yard, and then I slipped and lost my edge. But I had it."
Like many financially strapped athletes, Browning lacked adequate transportation, and it's here the car comes in.
"Michael Barnett, who was Wayne Gretzky's agent and became my agent, was watching the Olympics with his partner," Browning said.
"He's a cowboy at heart, and I had a cowboy program. And I'm from Alberta, and they had just moved to Alberta, so he approached me and said, 'Well, I can get you a car if you land the quad.' And I went to my coach and said, 'I need a car, let's move the quad to the beginning of the program.' And that's what happened. Monetary gain, my friend."
At the 1988 World Championships in Budapest, Browning kicked off his program with the quad, landing it cleanly on one foot with just a slight three-turn. The jump was ratified by ISU ice president Josef Dedic, and the skater placed third in the free program (behind Boitano and Orser) and sixth overall. And when he returned to Edmonton, he had his car, with a license plate that read, "1stQUAD."
"It was an Audi Quatro, which made sense," Browning said. "And no commercial really came of it and no hoopla, but six months later I had to give the car back, because the guy sold it. I didn't even know it wasn't mine. I got a call one day saying, 'Bring the car in, I sold it.' But it was a great summer anyway. I got to use it, and it was a beautiful machine."
Browning was hardly the first man to attempt the jump; 1985 world champion Alexandr Fadeev and Boitano, among others, had earlier risked attempts. 1984 Olympic bronze medalist Jozef Sabovcik came perhaps the closest, when he rotated the jump in his free skate at the 1986 European Championships, only to have it ruled two-footed by ISU officials.
Browning next landed the jump 11 months later at the 1989 Canadian Championships, an accomplishment he prefers to remember as his first true quad.
"It was really nice and clean, and at that point, I said to myself, 'For sure, I'm the first one to land it,' because I didn't really like the way I landed it at worlds," he said. "I think it was a year, year-and-a-half, or two before someone else landed one in competition."
Another Canadian, two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko, landed the first quad in combination in 1991. From there, its frequency grew. In 1998, American Timothy Goebel landed the first quad Salchow, and in 1999, he landed three quads (including both the toe and the Salchow) in a free program.
In Gothenburg, all of the top male contenders except, ironically, Canadians Patrick Chan and Jeff Buttle plan quads in one or both of their programs.
Still, Browning doesn't think the jump gets enough respect from the International Judging System.
"I'd like to see the quad beefed up a bit, because it is truly still a remarkable physical feat, and it should be recognized," he said.
"I don't think it's right that you can do a much easier [element] and get more credit. Why does a triple Axel-double toe-double loop get more than quad? And why does a triple toe done after a quad give you the exact same points as a single Axel-triple toe? It is much more difficult to do a [triple] toe after a quad. Why don't they value that toe a bit more, maybe give it a certain percentage of the jump before it?"
A quadruple toe loop has a base value of nine points, and a quad toe-triple toe combination is worth 13 points. Skate Canada has submitted a proposal to the ISU Congress to adjust the values of combinations, as Browning describes above.
The 41-year-old Browning kept up his relationship with the quad for many years, even landing them occasionally in his Stars on Ice performances.
"The last time I did it in performance was '98 or '99, I think '99," he said. "I did it in Stars on Ice in the telecast in Toronto. I just was skating really well that year, and I was practicing it for fun and thought it would be cool to do it in public.
"And then I tried it in 2003 a couple times in practice, and I fell so hard both times because I didn't stay in. I started opening up. I think I was so used to spinning at a slower rate that once I revved it up to full speed, something told me not to, probably my age. And I have not tried a four-revolution jump since 2003."