In the Sochi final, 24 men attempted 21 quads between them of which 13 were successful. The debate on how necessary quad jumps were for men was over.
Unlike Vancouver in 2010, it became impossible to ever again consider a men’s podium finish at Olympics without a quad jump.
Fast forward to the 2016 Progressive Skate America Grand Prix in Chicago this weekend where the world’s number one and two ranked men Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez were not competing, but they will now know that to hold their top spots, the heat is most definitely on.
In a ten-man field at the first Grand Prix of the season in Chicago, 12 successful quads from 14 attempts were landed in the free program by the high-quality field.
The quads were flying at the beginning of the free programs – as they did in Sochi, including a quad flip by winner Shoma Uno from Japan whilst the Chinese jumping bean Boyang Jin went for four quads – nailing three, including a magnificent quad lutz.
American Jason Brown, who has struggled with lifting his technical arsenal into the quad club, managed his first quad toe - albeit under-rotated but credited. With his strong performance skills, the one quad and well executed technical program was enough to deliver silver behind Uno. Without the quad Brown would have been looking at bronze at best.
Unlike the run-up to Sochi, men are now attempting and landing quad jumps beyond the mid-way point of the four-and-a-half minute programs. No longer are the quads only planned as the first and second elements in the haul to the final pose.
Multiple quads are slotted in as the 6th, 7th and 8th elements. That’s a herculean work-load and let’s not forget the performance value, which equals the technical score for importance.
It’s the mix of high-level technical skill with all-or-nothing artistic performance delivery that is sky rocketing men’s figure skating into eminently watchable, which the sport sorely needed for casual viewers.
Once upon a time the men’s event at major championships could be a snooze fest from the middle of the field to bottom place getters. The music (usually bland or boring or both) and performance value was incidental to the delivery of the all-important jumps. Those days are over for any man wanting to be in the World’s top rankings.
Indeed, just making it to an ISU Grand Prix event requires a potential top World 20 ranking.
OWIA skater Brendan Kerry competed at Skate America and he’s the only Australian in the Grand Prix events in any discipline. Kerry finished 10 out of 10 landing a gorgeous quad toe plus triple axel combo and triple/triple, raising his personal performance bar and scoring a very respectable 211 points.
It was a good skate in anyone’s language and the Aussie is starting to fulfil his long known about potential, but it’s a tough world for men now. They must have it all and avoid serious injury.
If the 2016 Skate America GP proves anything, it is that the bar has been raised for the equal mix of technical and artistic. Thankfully music choices have widened to include vocals, opening the door for a more modern feel with less trusty old standards and over-used classical pieces taking centre stage.
That’s not to say that classical music or the rusty musicals are all passé. However – figure skating is young person’s game that is governed by mostly older people.
The skaters, their coaches and choreographers are taking the sport to the viewing masses by upping the ante across the board and delivering big-time.
There are five remaining Grand Prix events, which will provide interesting viewing on SBS every Saturday at 2pm, beginning October 29 with the just completed Skate America. How the men hold up over the season will be test of their physical and mental endurance.
Eighteen months out from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games, the heat is on.
Story courtesy Belinda Noonan
TOP IMAGE: Brendan Kerry with coach Tammy Gambill