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The quad: Skating's evolution is for more revolution

Dec. 2, 1999 1:24 PM

AP Photos NY180-NY182 of Nov. 29; NAGO101 of Dec. 1 By BARRY WILNER

AP Sports Writer

If you can't rotate four times in the air, you can't go anywhere in men's figure skating these days.

It has become a fact of life in the sport that without a quadruple jump, medals are a longshot. All of the world's top skaters do them with regularity. So do all of the rising stars, including American Tim Goebel, who stunned the skating world by hitting three quads in one free skate program at Skate America.

"It was inevitable, it is evolution," says Canada's Elvis Stojko, who refined the jump and won three worlds titles and two Olympic silver medals with the quad a major weapon in his repertoire. "Someone sets a world record and then it gets bigger and bigger, moves ahead and ahead some more. It's amazing to see, it's what the sport is all about, to push forward."

Until the late 1980s, the quad was an aberration. Skaters practiced it and, once in a while, tried it in competition. Usually, they fell or landed on two feet or didn't get around four times.

At the 1986 European championships, the Czech Josef Sabovcik came close. His jump actually was approved at the time, but weeks later, officials viewed a videotape and disallowed it, saying Sabovcik's free foot also touched the ice on landing.

Kurt Browning of Canada was the first "quad man," hitting the jump at the 1988 worlds at Budapest. When he nailed it, Josef Dedic, vice president of the International Skating Union, said, "The quad will become an everyday event, at least in the men's category."

He was wrong. For years, it was still a novelty, and skaters such as Victor Petrenko and Todd Eldredge vaulted to the top of the sport without a quad as a key element in their programs.

"I remember that there were a few people landing the jump (in practice) long before I did, and by watching them I was inspired to try it myself," Browning says. "After landing it, I certainly expected more skaters to start doing it in competition. I was surprised in the next few years when that really did not happen."

Browning actually dropped the quad when he won the free skate and the gold medal at the 1993 worlds.

In 1996, Eldredge, easily the best skater never to master the quad, won the world title with a brilliant technical and artistic showing. It seemed as if the big jump would remain secondary to a skater's overall presentation.

Instead, that's when the quad really took off. With skaters from China, Latvia, France, Ukraine, Japan, Australia and Bulgaria conquering it, the men from the powerful skating nations - Russia, Canada, the Czech Republic and the United States - knew they had no choice but to embrace the quad.

"In the past few years the quad is finally becoming the expected thing for the men to do," Browning says, "but I am surprised that it took this long."

The Russians, who have dominated men's competition recently, are masters of the quad. Ilia Kulik, the 1998 Olympic champion, two-time world champ Alexei Yagudin and Evgeny Plushenko consider them just another necessary maneuver.

Not that Yagudin isn't thrilled with how he and his peers are stretching the parameters of their sport.

"It feels great to be a part of it," he says, "and to be involved in it at the top for so many years. It's become so difficult to stay there and you have to push yourself year after year.

"My first world championships, when I was 17," the 19-year-old Yagudin says, "I was doing quads in practice. Then I pushed them into the program because I had to.

"The jump has taken a step forward and it's great to see."

Goebel, of course, took it several steps forward at Skate America. He hit a quadruple salchow, a quad toe loop in combination and a quad toe as a solo jump. That makes the triple axel, which every man has done throughout the decade, look almost puny - even though, for example, only two women successfully have done the 3½-revolution jump.

"It's more important to do the quad than the triple axel," he says. "Maybe nine or 10 years ago, the triple axel was the benchmark. That's changed now."

How much more change might be ahead? Browning, now a touring professional with Stars on Ice who rarely competes, believes this is just the beginning for the quad.

"Of course, we are getting close to a quad axel," says Browning. "I just find it difficult to believe that it will ever truly be a consistent jump such as the quad toe seems to be.

"I knew a skater in Alberta in 1982 who could do a quad loop. My point being that there are always people out there who can jump bigger and better than you."

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