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Yuzuru Hanyu and the quest for the quad axel

February 9, 2022

Hanyu Yuzuru attempted to land the first-ever quad axel, while Nathan Chen won gold with five different quad jumps. Kamila Valieva also became the first woman to land a quad. But are quad jumps good for figure skating?

Hanyu Yuzuru performs at the Winter Olympics
Hanyu Yuzuru will attempt to make history at the Beijing GamesImage: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It was the jump Hanyu Yuzuru promised. The jump that had been "echoing inside" him, the jump for which he delayed his arrival to the Beijing Olympics and the jump he hoped would lift him to another stratosphere in figure skating.

So when Yuzuru began setting up his quadruple axel (4A for short), everyone in Beijing’s Capital Indoor Center watched on intently. In 8th entering the free skate, the Japanese superstar had nothing to lose.

But it wasn't meant to be. Although he seemed to get the four-and-a-half rotations he needed, the two-time gold medalist landed square on his backside before rolling on his hands and back up on his skates. The fall drew a gasp from the crowd, followed by a respectful clap of appreciation.

Despite falling on his next quad, Hanyu still dazzled the crowd with the rest of his routine. Afterwards he seemed disappointed but relieved to step off the ice. The performance earned him just a 4th place finish, but the attempt at figure skating history will still live on.

"I feel that this was the best 4A that the Hanyu Yuzuru from today could do," he said afterward. "Towards the end of it, I thought 'ah, this is how it feels,' but the landing is still difficult to do."

Yuzuru added that he's not sure he wants to attempt the quad axel again and admitted that he put too much pride into the jump.

"Nobody has ever done it before"” Jackie Wong, a figure skating analyst for Rocker Skating, told DW. "And it's very unlikely that anybody is going to do it anytime soon.”

Later, Nathan Chen, known as the "Quad King," secured the gold with a routine to Elton John’s "Rocket Man" with five different quad jump combinations. On Monday, Kamila Valieva became the first female figure skater to land a quad in her free skate as part of the Team Event.

But not everyone is fond of the quad revolution that has taken place in men's and women's figure skating and are concerned where the sport is heading.


What is a quad jump?

There are six different types of jumps in figure skating: the axel, flip, Lutz, loop, toe loop, and Salchow. Jumps are then categorized based on how many spins a skater does.

The axel is the most difficult because it is the only jump where a skater begins facing forward and involves an extra half twist.

Triple jumps, once unthinkable, are now standard in figure skating, according to Wong. "You can't be anywhere near competitive, even in domestic competitions, without triple jumps. Quads for the men are imperative. All the top guys in the world are doing at least one quad."

In 2018, Chen made history when he landed six quads during his free skate routine, earning him his 'Quad King' moniker. But Wong says that, while the American has become the public face of the quad revolution, its origins go further back than that.

Nathan Chen at the Winter Olympics
Nathan Chen has made quad jumps a normal part of men's figure skatingImage: David Ramos/Getty Images

"When you look at the history of skating over the past 10 years, it really started with Patrick Chan in 2012," Wong told DW. "He was the first one to have both consistent quad jumps and really good basic skating and it really separated him from the rest of the pack."

Chen, he says, has revolutionized the sport in the last five years with "multiple quads and multiple different quads."

But though Chen has five different quad jumps in his routine, the one missing is the quad axel. Though Hanyu has been his fiercest competitor in recent years, he told DW he still hopes the Japanese superstar can do it.

"Whatever he can do to push the sport forward is something we are all aiming for, so that would be amazing," Chen said.

Are quads good for figure skating?

Because he's been the face of the quad revolution for many years, Chen has also stopped concerning himself with the athleticism vs. artistry debate in figure skating.

Kamila Valieva in action at Beijing 2022
Kamila Valieva has set a new bar for female figure skatingImage: Sebastian Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

"At this point in time, I really love what I do," he told DW. "I love the elements and the programs I'm able to do, and I'm trying to do the very best that I can. So I'll just try to keep enjoying it."

But the debate rages on, especially with Valieva pushing the boundaries on the women's side. Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion and an analyst with NBC Sports in the US, wonders if quads should really become routine in a sport where art has always played a part.

"The way things are going, it is going to be very difficult for female skaters who don't have these quads to compete for a medal," she told NBC Sports last year. "No one inherently likes change, and this is going to be such a drastic change. I wonder how are you going to balance what figure skating is, the balance between technical and artistic, which has been a problem in our sport forever."

Wong believes it's important to preserve the artistry of the sport. "Otherwise you are not talking about figure skating as an all-around package, you're just talking about the jumps. And there's so much more to figure skating than just the jumps."