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Where are the quads in pairs’ figure skating?


USA’s Alexa Scimeca Knierim and USA’s Chris Knierim compete in the pair skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 15, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

At the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai, five of the top seven pair teams attempted a quad element in their free skates: three quadruple twists, and two throw quadruple salchows.

“We want to move the sport forward,” said Eric Radford, who executed a throw quad salchow and won the event with partner Meagan Duhamel. “I think, in a few years, there will be two kinds of pairs: those with a quad element, and those without.”

Radford was wrong.

At the 2021 World Championships in Stockholm last week, no pair tried a quad twist or throw. Ditto in 2019. You have to go back to the 2018 World Championships in Milan, when Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov did a quadruple twist in their silver medal free skate, for the last time a pair did a quad at worlds.

Over the same time period, quadruple jumps in the singles’ events proliferated like wildfire. It would be unthinkable for a man to land on the world podium in Stockholm without at least two types of quad jump, and indeed medalists Nathan Chen had five, Yuma Kagiyama three and Yuzuru Hanyu attempted four in their free skates. Aleksandra Trusova, the women’s bronze medalist, tried five quads total in her free skate, succeeding on two.

So, why aren’t pairs trying quad twists and throws anymore?

The answer can be found in Tarasova and Morozov’s protocols.

In 2018, the Russian champions hit a solid quad twist that gained Level 3 (the second highest) from the technical panel, giving it a base value of 8.60 points. Adding in grades of execution (GOE) awarded by the judges, it was worth 9.74 points.

In their free skate in Stockholm this week, Tarasova and Morozov didn’t bother with a quad. They hit a Level 4 triple twist, with a base value of 6 points. With good grades of execution, it was worth 8.74 points – exactly one point less than the Level 3 quad twist the pair did in Milan.

A point isn’t nothing, but skaters and coaches have decided it simply isn’t worth the extra energy and training time, not to mention the risk.

In 2015, Alexa and Chris Knierim executed a quad twist in their free skate in Shanghai, where they placed seventh in their worlds’ debut. They went on to hit it at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, but did not try it their final two seasons. Chris Knierim retired from competition in February 2020.

When Alexa Knierim was asked whether she and her current partner, Brandon Frazier, would consider developing a quad twist, she shook her head.

“I think you don’t see the quad twist anymore because the point value for it is not significant enough for the danger, and wear and tear on the athletes’ bodies,” Knierim, who with Frazier placed seventh this week, said.

“When Chris and I were training that element, we would only start it in August/September, and we would only do it one session a day, because of the torque on the body,” she added. “I think if the point value for it were much higher, it would be something to consider, but at this point skating a solid program, with great grade of execution (GOE) on all of the elements, is really the strategy for winning.”

Two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, winners of the silver medal last week, are another pair who have seemingly abandoned the quad elements, including twist and throw salchow, they performed earlier in their career.

Neither the gold medal pair in Stockholm, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, or bronze medalists Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitry Kozlovsky attempted a quad element. Both of these Russian pairs are trained by legendary coach Tamara Moskvina, who fairly sniffs in disdain when asked about the quad twist.

“It is not a simple element, and to get the top level, they want the girl to do it with her hand over her head,” she said, citing one of several features – also including a full split and the man putting his arms at his side after the toss – that might help qualify a quad twist for a Level 4.

For Duhamel, the message is clear: the ISU is discouraging pairs from upgrading the difficulty of their twists and throws.

“When Eric and I competed, the throw quad was only worth it when we landed it cleanly,” Duhamel said. “If I put my hand down on the landing, then somebody else’s clean throw triple would get more points. I’ve done a nice, easy, flowing throw triple, and I’ve done a hand down on a throw quad, and a hand-down throw quad is a lot harder than a nice throw triple.”

The base value of a throw quad salchow is 6.5 points; for a throw triple salchow, it is 4.4 points. Contrast that with the differential between a triple salchow jump, 4.3 points, and a quadruple salchow, 9.7 points.

“I’ve talked with singles’ skaters who think that is just ridiculous,” Duhamel said. “They don’t understand it.”

Conventional wisdom has it that, by keeping the value of quad pair elements relatively low, the ISU wants to avoid pair skater accidents and injuries. But Duhamel says no one from the ISU ever approached her and Radford to discuss how they trained the element.

“Why didn’t they come to the people who were doing it, and ask them: Can we do research on the number of falls you have, and how they compare to falls on the throw triple?” she said.

Before they developed their quad twist, Alexa and Chris Knierim met with sports medicine staff at the United States Olympic Committee to create a training and recovery program to help prevent injuries.

“I have to be really technically sound, more so than for the triple,” Chris Knierim said at the time. “Sometimes I get a little antsy and kind of rush, so the biggest thing for me is to keep the steps into [the quad] nice and easy, like I was going into a triple. After the steps are done, the up is the same as the triple; it’s really no different.”

Duhamel reasons that, instead of keeping the value of quad twists and throws low, the ISU should increase the base values and allow skaters and their coaches to decide whether or not to pursue them.

“For every skater, or team, the path to the top is different,” she said. “For us, we needed every technical point we could get. It would be dangerous for me to try a quad twist, so I would never do it…. Do I want [other pairs] to do it? Yes, because it is thrilling.”

While pairs have been stagnant on quad elements the last several seasons, lifts are growing ever more complicated, with difficult entries and exits, as well as one-arm variations, required to obtain Level 4s.

“When I see the lifts people are doing, for me, that’s more dangerous than doing a throw quad,” Duhamel said. “To compete in top five at the world championships, you have to have a massive triple twist. To me, that is more dangerous than a throw quad…. The coach and the skater should weigh the risk factors of elements, not the ISU.”

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