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The most controversial Olympic figure skating jump


This is the hardest jump in figure skating. Four complete revolutions in the air. It’s called a quadruple jump. And it’s changing the sport of figure skating. Today’s figure skaters are more focused on jumps than ever before. That’s led to incredible displays of athleticism, but not everyone is happy about it. For lots of fans, quadruple jumps have done little but make figure skating uglier and more dangerous. And they may be right. A quadruple jump is extremely difficult. The leap requires incredible momentum, precisely divided between vertical lift and spin. Then you have to fight inertia to contract your body, making yourself spin faster. Finally, you land with a force equivalent to seven times your body weight. And all of this on a surface where many people struggle to stand up. It all takes less than a second. American figure skater Nathan Chen does five of these jumps in his long program. Now, all quads aren’t created equal. First, there’s the Lutz, where you take off from the back outside edge of your left skate and land on your right foot. What makes it so hard is that you reverse direction on takeoff. Your left foot is skating clockwise, but then you jump and spin the other way. Then there’s the flip jump, which launches from the left foot, and the toe loop, which launches from the right. And finally there’s this one, called the Salchow. It was invented more than a hundred years ago by the first Olympic figure skating champion. These jumps are pushing the limits of figure skating. But they’re also fundamentally changing the sport. Most quads—or passes where a skater does a quad and then another jump— get negative grades of execution. Meaning, they’re sloppy. Half of those are total disasters. And even Chen makes mistakes on about one-third of his quad passes. That means nearly everyone falls, and as athletes take more risks, many get injured. But those injuries haven’t stopped other skaters from trying to push their routines even further. Some skaters are even trying to pull off a quadruple axel, a forward-facing leap with four and a half rotations. That would change the sport all over again. But it also raises a question: If figure skating has turned into a quest for bigger and bigger jumps, can it still be about artistry?

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