The quad revolution in women's figure skating: Big jumps are set to earn hardware in Beijing

For the first time in Olympic history, a fully-rotated quadruple jump has been completed at an Olympic Winter Games - done by Kamila Valieva. See how we made the technical journey to her moment. 

5 min By Nick McCarvel
(Picture by 2022 Getty Images)

Four years since American Mirai Nagasu was the lone female to do a triple Axel at the Olympics in 2018 - and less than three years since Elizavet Tursynbaeva became the first to land a fully-rotated quadruple jump in senior competition - the name of the game is jumps, jumps, jumps at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

While the sport remains a mix of artistry and athleticism, the technical content in women's figure skating has skyrocketed in the past Olympic quad.

In Beijing, a quadruple jump has been completed by a female skater on the Olympic stage for the first time: Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva of the ROC hit not one but two of them in the women single free skate portion of the figure skating team event, helping the ROC earn gold on Monday (7 February).

She tried a third but fell on it.

So, how did we arrive at this historic moment?

"What happened in the last quad was that lots of the women were doing very similar technical elements," said Jackie Wong, a figure skating expert. "And so there was kind of this max ceiling of base value that was happening with the women. People had to differentiate."

Wong added: "There was probably just a strategic move being made to develop skaters - especially in Russia - who were able to break that ceiling and be able to score higher with the base value. And so that's what you've seen over the past four years: More and more skaters come on from (for example) Eteri Tutberidze's Russian program who had been training these jumps while they were younger."

Tutberidze's camp includes current world record holder Valieva and her ROC teammates - reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova - who are all known for their four-rotation jumps.

The trio of skaters are favoured to land on the podium during the women single event, set for 15 and 17 February.

Jumping for joy: Quads - and the triple Axel

Will any of the women's podium in Beijing feature a skater without a triple Axel or quad?

"No," Wong said simply.

Mike Slipchuk, the high performance director at Skate Canada, agrees.

"It's really amazing in these last four years," he told Olympics.com. "To see what Valieva has been doing and the scores she's been putting up - and they're comparable to the men's scores - I really think it's this current group of women that are doing the quads have... the messaging is really trickling down to everyone else that if they're doing it, this is all possible."

Valieva has stood in a class of her own this season in her senior debut at 15: She's not lost, while also setting record after record. At the European Championships like month, Valieva did a quad Salchow and two quad toe-loops - in addition to a triple Axel.

Her overall score of 272.71 at Rostelecom Cup in November is the current world record.

The triple Axel is an example of belief and repetition. The jump - actually three-and-a-half rotations because of its forward take-off position - is still only done by few in the women's event.

While technique is big, so too is belief, as Slipchuk says: Seeing others execute something never done before.

The triple Axel has a longer history at the top level of the sport, with Ito Midori completing the first in Olympic competition at Lillehammer 1992. The aforementioned Nagasu was the only skater to do one in 2018.

You will see more at these Games, however. And more Axels than quad jumps.

Skaters - in addition to Valieva and Trusova - that possess a triple Axel here at the Olympics: Japan's Higuchi Wakaba and Kawabe Mana; South Korea's You Young; Anastasiia Shabotova of Ukraine; and Alysa Liu of the United States.

The quadruple jump is only allowed in the free skate (currently), while the triple Axel is allowed in both the short and the free.

It's been tried before: Surya Bonaly attempted a quad toe-loop at the Games in 1992, but the jump was downgraded as it was not fully rotated upon landing - therefore not ratified. Two-time world champion Ando Miki of Japan tried a quad at Torino 2006, but fell on the jump.

Shattering the ceiling with soaring athleticism

Wong agrees with Slipchuk: belief is key.

"Being able to see others do it and being like, 'OK, well, if this person can do it, then I should be able to,'" he said. "Part of it is also the training environment that they have: The skaters pushing each other all the time. And the competitiveness of a training environment certainly helps. And there's sort of this emulation factor that is part of it."

The scoring system must be factored in too, of course.

With the implementation of the International Judging System in 2004, skating officials blew the ceiling off the 6.0 system, meaning the more difficult an element, the more points a skater could earn.

Quads are the ultimate example of that. While the Sochi 2014 men's event - won by Hanyu Yuzuru - was the first Games dominated by the quad jump in men's skating, Beijing 2022 promises to be the Games where the quad fully enters the chat for the women.

"I'm starting to see that women are are eager to get moving on" quads, Slipchuk said. "They're not complacent to stay where they are. So that's good. I think it's good for skating and it's good when you're starting to see a lot of countries doing these jumps. A lot of Japanese girls are doing the triple Axel now."

He concluded: "I think this makes it exciting - and it keeps pushing the sport forward."

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