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The fourth dimension: U.S. men analyze the quad

Skaters reveal what makes the four-revolution jump skating's most challenging element

The quad paid huge dividends at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships for Jeremy Abbott, who opened his free skate with a flawless quad toe.
The quad paid huge dividends at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships for Jeremy Abbott, who opened his free skate with a flawless quad toe. (Getty Images)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(03/20/2012) - Kurt Browning landed the first successful quadruple toe loop in competition at the World Figure Skating Championships in Budapest in 1988. Ten years later Tim Goebel landed the first quad Salchow, and Brandon Mroz landed the first quad lutz last fall. Japan's Daisuke Takahashi made a valiant attempt at a quad flip at the 2010 World Championships, although it was downgraded. No one has ever landed a quad loop in competition.

At the 2011 World Championships, all of the top five men landed quads; nine men landed a quad toe loop or Salchow in the event. From 2005 -- the first year the current judging system was used at the world championships -- through 2011, between seven and nine men have been credited with landing rotated quads at each world championships. Twenty-four years after the first clean quad was performed in competition, the jump has yet to become a part of every elite male skater's program.

What makes the quad such a challenge? Several U.S. men who have landed four-revolution jumps, or who are working on them, weighed in with their thoughts on the high-scoring element.

"Quads are a whole other demon," said Stephen Carriere, who landed his first quad in competition in 2006 but landed his second only last fall. "You can't attack it like you can with triples. They have different characteristics. You can't pound yourself too much on quads."

Max Aaron says that unlike triples, where it's possible to correct for minor errors, everything about a quad has to be perfect from the start.

"You don't just pull in on a quadruple because the slightest error can pull you off," Aaron said. "The minute your left arm is behind you, or your three-turn is too fast, if your hips don't turn in time, if your foot isn't in the right place, anything will throw you off.

"The force of a quadruple is huge. You don't want to feel insecure in a quad, or you'll go down, and you'll go down hard."

Ross Miner, who started working on quads less than a year ago, agrees.

"When it feels good, it doesn't feel harder than any other triple," he said. "But when it doesn't feel perfect, it's like, 'How do people do this?' You have to have your body controlled so there are no other variables. You don't have the space; you have to be right from the beginning. There are very few guys who can save a quad -- [France's Brian] Joubert and [Russia's Evgeni] Plushenko can.

"The triple Axel is something I can make myself do no matter what. Quad is not at that point yet."

Miner started working on the quadruple Salchow last May and said it took about a week to land it for the first time. For now, he is concentrating on the quadruple toe loop instead.

"There's less going on [with the quad toe loop], because you're not quite as dependent on the quality of the ice," Miner said. "When you're doing quad Sal, you're almost crumbling the ice beneath your feet.

"There are fewer variables with toe. I've been working on quad toe every day. It's a lot less complicated for me than the Salchow."

Aaron also started working on quads last spring, after the 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. His first step was to refine the technique of his triple Salchow so that he got into his rotating position in the air faster. Next, he started working on several different quads in the jump harness.

"Just in case some other jump might work well, I did quad Sal and quad toe in the harness," he said. "I tried quad Lutzes in the harness, and they were just about around. Quad loop was more difficult for me."

By the fall, Aaron had gotten the quad Salchow firmly in his repertoire, attempting it in every competitive program and almost always landing it.

"We decided to put the quad Sal in the program every single time," he said. "Some men just try them in big events, but I wanted to really get it consistent in the short and long programs.

"It's very difficult to do the quad every single day. I accepted that I was going to slam numerous times a day to get that jump. And it's one thing to do it in practice, but it's another thing to do it when the music comes on and you're out there by yourself. Until you try it, you will not understand the feeling of that."

Douglas Razzano added a quad toe loop to his repertoire four years ago, after the 2008 U.S. Championships; he says it only took two weeks to start landing it.

"I've pretty much had it for the last four years," he said. "I've been able to do it consistently. But it's really hard, let me tell you, it's really hard. When you can do a triple jump, doubles become nothing, basically. When you can do a quad, a triple seems like nothing. No one is doing five revolutions, so quads will always seem hard. There's nothing to work on to make it easier."

Razzano says that the trick is getting extra height in the jump to get in the extra rotation.

"My triple toe was really easy," he said. "I don't know if quad Sal is in my future. For any quad you're going to do, the triple needs to be proficient and have a lot of space in the air."

Carriere said that when he got home from the Nebelhorn Trophy last fall, his triple toe was feeling really good.

"Obviously, you want to make the triple toe big enough," he said. "I felt like I had enough height to get the feeling of the four rotations back. The [quads] I did almost didn't feel like a big deal because it was the rhythm. I always had to make sure I was loading a lot of my weight on my right leg, so I can pick in with power in my left. Once I found the rhythm, there wasn't any stopping me. You can't rush it; you can't power it. You have to be relaxed."

Alexander Johnson is just starting to work on adding another revolution to his triple toe.

"I started working on the basic technique of my triples, and when that felt solid enough to try a quad, we went for it," he said. "The first one I did was a pretty weird feeling. You don't really know where you are in the air, and it feels bizarre to stay tight for so long. After the first one, they get less and less scary to try, and you have a better feeling for it, but the first one was definitely a bit frightening."

All the skaters agree that working on quads is hard on the body because there's just no way to learn them without falling a lot, and falling hard.

"You don't really respect the quad until you do it every day," Aaron said. "Adding a quad in the program is very difficult, and I respect anyone who even attempts it. It's mentally tough, and also physical. You need the strength, but you're going to fall a lot and take a beating."

"It does take a toll on your body," Miner said in agreement.

Carriere is still figuring out how best to train with a quad in his program and still maintain his health.

"I know that working on quads is going to lead to higher risk of injuries," he said. "I've only had it in two events, and one was six years ago, so I'm the first one to say I'm not exactly seasoned in how long I should be working on them.

"My coach (Suna Murray) is an advocate of the butt-pad. That's the reality of skating that I don't think most people know. I've seen a couple of pretty nasty falls. In Delaware, it was me, Shaun Rogers, Viktor Pfeifer, and at least two of us had some pretty hard falls each day. It's part of the package."

Mroz, who spent the year working on several different quads, had to be very aware of the wear and tear on his body.

"It's taxing on my body to some degree, since they're intense jumps, especially when you do multiple reps of each one," Mroz told icenetwork.com last fall. "But I feel like I've got good technique, so I've been trying to be diligent, with smart training."

Razzano was asked what advice he would have for someone starting to learn a quad.

"I would say, first of all, don't overdo it and listen to your body because these are the jumps where the injuries happen," he said. "Don't be afraid to push the envelope because otherwise the sport goes nowhere. Don't let yourself succumb to that fear. Let me tell you, I was scared the first time I tried quad toe."

The final, crucial element to the quad is mental. To succeed, the skater needs not only to land his quad but to be able to keep his focus for the rest of the program. All the men agree that the secret to mental focus is training: run the programs, with the quad, every day.

"Going into Austria, mentally, I've always had that innate work ethic of running the program every day," Carriere said, referring to the Ice Challenge in Graz, which he won last November. "I wanted the quad in the long, so let's make it happen. It's mind over matter. After landing the quad, it's so important to almost forget about it, to think about the next thing."

"Not only are you thinking about the quad Sal, but you have the whole program to finish," Aaron said. "So whatever happens, you have to follow through with the rest of your program -- even in practice. Some people are afraid to go out there and fall and slam. Some people don't have the motivation to do that every day."

"I think it's all in how you train," Razzano said. "If you do that at home, you won't be surprised when you land it. It's different in competition because there's that extra excitement level, but don't get ahead of yourself and keep your composure."

"It comes down to the training," three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott said during a teleconference Monday. "If I make a big thing of it in the training, it will come out in the competition, but if I train it just as any other element ... then the rest of the program will be there regardless of what happens with the quad. This season I've been training it in my program all season long, and it's been so consistent, we decided to put it in my short program."

"The weird thing about it is, when you do it right, it's so easy," Miner said. "The more and more we do it -- the more we push the envelope -- it's going to get easier. It's cool to be on the edge of what people can do right now."