The Olympic figure skating competition kicked off on Thursday, Feb. 8 with the first skaters in the team event, and there's lots more skating to come over the next two weeks. One of the terms you'll be hearing a lot about is "quads." What's a "quad"? I'm so glad you asked.
"Quad" is short for "quadruple jump," a jump with four rotations. These are the most difficult jumps that will be performed at the Olympics, and are — at the moment — only performed by male skaters. Out of the six recognized jump types in figure skating, five are currently executed in their quadruple form: the toe loop, the flip, the lutz, the loop, and the salchow. The axel, which is the only jump with a forward takeoff and thus has an extra half-rotation, has never been attempted as a quad. The physics behind quads is, frankly, astounding. Skaters launch themselves into the air, where they hang for approximately 0.65 to 0.70 seconds, and in the span of that time, rotate themselves four times. Then, they land on the edge of a thin piece of steel, on one foot, with force equivalent to around seven times their own body weight — and then they go smoothly into their next element!
The past four years have been something of a "quad revolution," if you will. Quads have become a necessary staple for the top tier of men: in Sochi, Russia, even the top medalists only executed a quad or two apiece, but the top contenders in Pyeongchang — including Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu (the defending Olympic champ) and Shoma Uno, two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, and American champion Nathan Chen — have somewhere between four and seven quads planned between their two programs combined. Skaters who lack a reliable quadruple jump — notably American fan favorite Jason Brown, for instance — run the constant risk of simply not being able to keep up with the big points earned by those who have mastered at least one type of quad jump.
It's also launched an ongoing debate as to the future of figure skating. The physical toll of quads and the push to keep adding more has, in some cases, resulted in a shift of focus away from the art of creating a program and away from the "components" — things like interesting transitions, musicality, and footwork that used to be referred to as "artistic merit." The risk and reward of quadruple jumps has made them one of the hottest topics in figure skating today, and you're sure to hear a lot about it throughout the competition, as skaters soar (and fall) on these spectacular and difficult elements.