It has been more than 25 years since Canadian figure skating legend Kurt Browning landed the first quadruple jump in competition.
Now the jump is essentially mandatory for elite men’s competitors. It begs the question: if skaters can complete four revolutions in the air — is it possible to add a fifth?
The idea of a quintuple jump even being a possibility draws mixed opinions from the Canadian figure skating community. Some think we’ll see it down the road, others feel there’s a chance it might be possible and a few laughed at the mere suggestion it could ever happen.
So will we ever see a “quint” landed in competition one day?
“I think so. I do, I think so,” said Joanne McLeod, who coaches Canadian figure skater Kevin Reynolds. “You know, I would think in the next 20 years I think somebody will be able to do it.”
Many skaters who have quads in their repertoires do toe loops, where the same back outside edge of the skate is used for the takeoff and the landing.
The Salchow is also performed regularly on the circuit. With that jump, the skater takes off from the back inside edge of one skate and lands backward on the outside edge of the opposite skate.
“You look at 10-15 years ago and you didn’t see a lot of quads,” Skate Canada high-performance director Mike Slipchuk said in a recent interview. “And now quads are all over the place. You know what, anything is possible. It’s like any sport — the levels are being pushed.”
It’s tempting to get carried away by thinking about the possibilities. It’s also easy to forget there is still work to be done on the quad.
According to the International Skating Union, there are three quad jumps — the quad flip, quad loop and quad Axel — that have not been successfully landed in competition. Quad flips and quad loops have been attempted, but they were not recognized as the skater either didn’t land cleanly or under-rotated.
McLeod said figure skaters are always pushing forward with advancements in speed, fitness, technology and coaching.
“I mean it’s like golf — the physique of the golfer changed when Tiger (Woods) took the club,” she said. “They were more conditioned, a little taller, a little more rotation in the waist. You look at the NHL. The players are a little younger, a little more cardio-friendly. So the sport, having the quad, it requires a quick twitch. Like a basketball player and how quick they can deke.
“So there’s a quickness that you need to have with your limbs coming into your centre of gravity. You have to have the right technique, you have to work with a good technician and you can’t just learn it at the end of the game. You have to have the foundation so that it’s going to give you that.”
While practising Wednesday for Thursday’s men’s short program at the Sochi Olympics, Canadian skater Kevin Reynolds nailed a whopping 12 quad jumps. There was a time when that would have been unthinkable but Reynolds calls it “normal.”
Slipchuk, a former skater himself, said he sees quads and triple Axels now at the junior level. He wouldn’t rule out seeing a quint jump at some point in the future.
“Who knows how soon?” he said. “There are still a few quad jumps that people haven’t done. But someone’s always going to look for an edge, and that’s an edge. The guys do the quads right now and they look like triples. They look easy.
“So I think when you look at any sport, it’s just the levels are being pushed. So we’ll see, who knows?”
Others weren’t so sure, including Browning, who hit a quad toe loop at the 1988 world championships to become the first skater to have the jump officially ratified, according to the ISU.
He joked that for a quint to be possible, a skater “wouldn’t have shoulders and hips.”
“They’d just be like a string with skates on,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe there will be a sighting of a Sasquatch at the same time that there’s a sighting of a quint. And maybe it’ll be real and ratified by video somewhere.
“But I just don’t think the quint will ever be a consistent thing like it is the quad. There’s just too much gravity.”
A quint would require a skater to either propel themselves even higher in the air or wrap themselves up even tighter so that they can spin faster and complete that fifth revolution.
Advancements in technology and in strength and conditioning may help in the future. Or maybe an athlete with perfect proportions will emerge on the figure skating scene — like sprinter Usain Bolt did in track or UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones in mixed martial arts.
McLeod said every once in a while, a phenom comes around who changes the game for everyone. She points to Japanese skater Midori Ito — who she called “superhuman” — for her ability to land triple Axels in the late 1980s.
“She was throwing them out like flipping pancakes on the griddle,” McLeod said. “And she still had air time and she wasn’t even tight. But you look at her body and she’s got very, very strong legs. Her centre of gravity was low to the ground. Again, it might take that type of a (special body).”
Even if a skater had the vertical jumping ability, the biggest challenge would likely be keeping the arms folded in tight to the body so that spin speed could be maximized.
Scott Oser, an associate physics professor at the University of British Columbia, said it would take incredible strength to fight off the powerful centrifugal force.
“If you fail to do that, you lose,” he said. “As soon as your arm gets extended, it’s going to slow down your motion. In physics terms, we say that you’ve increased your moment of inertia. You just cannot maintain the same rotational speed.”
Oser added he felt the quint was still a possibility in principle, but very unlikely to be attempted in competition.
“This is really pushing the limits of endurance for everything,” he said. “I think it’s really at the edge of human capacity. If you are going to do a jump in a competition, you’re not going to do that jump unless you have practised it and can land it reliably.”
Clearly even landing such a jump would be a magical feat. Doing so in a graceful manner borders on impossible.
“The risk of injury I think would be very high and I don’t know what the limit of what our bodies would be able to take at this point,” said Reynolds, who is known for his quad-heavy program. “Maybe in a harness or something it would be fine but trying it out on ourselves I think would be very dangerous.”
Ice dancer Scott Moir predicted it would be a long time before a quint is landed in competition, but added similar barriers have been broken in other sports.
“Nobody ever thought anybody would run a four-minute mile, nobody ever thought anybody would run a 9.7 in the 100 metres, you’d have to think that our kids’ kids might be doing quints,” he said. “But I think that’s a long way away. Watching someone do a quad is mind-boggling still for me.”
When it comes to the quint, perhaps Oser summed it up best.
“The way I would put it is, I think it’s humanly possible. I think that I will never see it done in competition during my lifetime. And I’m not that old.”
— With files from Canadian Press reporter Cassandra Szklarski and The Associated Press.