What to Know About the Quad Axel, Figure Skating's Near-Impossible Jump

The sport of figure skating has been consistently pushing boundaries over the last decade. First came the "quad revolution" in men's figure skating, then it seemed like more and more women were attempting the triple axel, and now some women's singles skaters are even landing quads in major competitions. The one frontier that still hasn't been conquered? The elusive quad axel.

On its own, the axel jump is a particularly challenging one. For casual fans, it's the easiest jump to recognize because of one distinctive feature: it's the only one of the six recognized figure-skating jumps that has a forward takeoff instead of a backward one. Because of that forward takeoff, the jump requires an extra half-rotation. So a single axel is actually one and a half rotations, a double axel has two and a half rotations, and the triple axel has three and a half rotations. A quad axel, then, would involve four and a half rotations in the air.

A triple axel is already one of the most difficult jumps in figure skating. For men's singles skaters, a triple axel is required to be a contender, but for women, it's still a rarity. Only a small number of women athletes have landed the triple axel in competition, and you can literally count on one hand the number who have landed it at the Olympics. The very idea of a quad axel doesn't seem possible — but it might be, and a few men are giving it a shot.

Unsurprisingly, the most notable skater pushing for a quad axel is Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. He's the two-time defending Olympic gold medalist and has been at the forefront of advancing the sport's technical possibilities. Now nearing the end of his career, Hanyu has made no secret of the fact that he really, really wants to land a quad axel to complete his legacy.

"I could drop the axel and look at other ways of trying to win gold but the biggest reason I'm going to Beijing is because I want to complete the quadruple axel. I want the championship by using the axel," Hanyu said ahead of the Beijing Games, according to NBC Olympics. He attempted the jump at the Japanese national championships in late 2021, but failed to rotate it enough; instead, it was "downgraded" and judged as a triple. Hanyu hasn't officially confirmed whether he's going to attempt the jump at the Olympics, but it's a pretty safe bet that he'll try it at least once.

Other skaters are also taking a crack at it: Nathan Chen has attempted it in practice but never in competition, while another American skater, Artur Dmitriev Jr., landed an under-rotated (but not downgraded) quad axel at the 2022 US Figure Skating Championships. The reigning US silver medalist Ilia Malinin and Italian champion Daniel Grassl have both said they're trying it. A fully rotated and landed quad axel is no longer theoretical — it's just a matter of who will get there first.