Many figure skating fans probably know that Kurt Browning was the first skater to land a fully-rotated quadruple jump in competition, ratified as such by the ISU. This happened in the World Championships in late March 1988. But he was not the first to try as there were skaters who attempted quadruple jumps in competition before him.
The emphasis on quad history has been on the firsts. For example, Skate Guard blog on figure skating history features excellent posts on quads in general and on Canadian firsts in jumps. Ryan Stevens, the author of the Skate Guard blog, has also now published a book, Technical Merit (2023), on the history of figure skating jumps which adds a few tidbits to the quads also – the emphasis is heavily on earlier times and how the first versions of jumps in general came about.
A timeline listing ratified firsts in every jump type from singles to quads can be found in Wikipedia. The Wikipedia page on quads used to include a list of early quad attempts which made the development more tangible than just the brief list of firsts, but this has since been removed (a version of it is stored on this page). Beverly Smith also documented the evolution of quads in a timeline and an article in Globe and Mail in 2008 for the situation at the time.
The firsts are fun facts, but I would like to understand the process and the big picture: how does the quad become as important as it is now in 2023? The quad has been done in competition for 40 years this season (2022–23), but only very recently it has become common in just about every sector of competitive figure skating: men and women, seniors and juniors attempt quads in domestic and international competitions. The first attempt in March 1983 marks a starting point, bu there is a sort of a prehistory to quads before the 1980s when it was still left on practice ice. Evolution is rarely linear and there are at least two phases of very fast progress (the late 1990s and mid-2010s) and one longish stagnation period (most of the 2000s) for quads.
Using existing data – the simple lists of attempts and firsts – was not enough to reply the questions I was asking, so I have had to do quite a lot of work on my own collecting jumps from various sources. My data (over 14 000 quad attempts since 1983) and its sources are described elsewhere in this blog (link coming soon). I have tried to compile simple statistics and then write some analyses of the different time periods. Let’s start with the prehistory of quadruple jumps!
Dreamers: A Prehistory of Quadruple Jumps from the 1960s to March 10, 1983
The first quad attempts in competitions in the 1980s were preceded by a period of training and trying quads in practices. This phase is mostly documented by personal statements and/or mentions by others who witnessed these feats – our time of social media and video clips is so good compared to this! These stories must be taken with a pinch of salt, but they do give an idea of quad ambitions even before all triples had been done in competition. (Links on names lead to Wikipedia pages.)
The earliest mention comes from the 1960s. Donald Jackson (CAN) competed internationally from 1956 to 1962 and he was the first to do a successful triple Lutz in competition. But apparently, he was also dabbling with a quadruple Salchow as he said in a 2013 interview: “I was working on quad Salchows in 1962 with Mr. Galbraith [his coach], after I turned professional, and I had it with a little cheat. I certainly would have wanted to try it if I had stayed in [amateur competition].” (The ManleyWoman Skatecast, Nov 2013).
One of Jackson’s contemporaries, Ronald Robertson (CAN), was also interested in the quadruple Salchow already during his competitive career, but it remains uncertain if he ever tried it. His obituary in the Los Angeles Times (Mar 26, 2000) says: “When he was 18, Robertson, who grew up in Long Beach, was talking about doing a quadruple Salchow. Such a feat was inconceivable in the 1950s. It hadn’t been very long that men were doing triple jumps.” He went on to have a successful professional career and in the early 1970s seems to have mastered the quadruple loop – it is mentioned in different sources (for example, this blog) and was maybe even verified by Robertson himself (as mentioned in some archived threads at the Golden Skate Forum).
There is a little bit more evidence for Robert Wagenhoffer’s (USA) quad toe loops. He skated competitively from 1977 to 1982 and seems to have been jumping quad toe loops in official practices of at least some competitions. (SkateGuard blog on him from Nov 17, 2014).
In the summer of 2023, I saw a mention that Fumio Igrarashi, a Japanese figure skater, might have been trying quadruple Lutzes in practices at the Rotary International competition held in Richmond, Great Britain. This probably would have been in 1978 and might have been mentioned in The Times. So far I have not been able to find the mention, but will keep looking. (SkateGuard blog on Igarashi from December 5, 2017 does not mention quadruples.)
In the early 1980s, another American skater, Mark Cockerell, was training quads and contemplating doing them in competition. His decision to remove the quad from his free program at the National Sports Festival in the summer of 1983 reflects the attitudes of the 6.0 era – risk taking was not rewarded, perfection was (NY Times June 27, 1983): ”If I had been in first place after the short program, I would have done the quad,” he said of the jump, which has never been successfully performed in competition. ”But being third, I knew I needed to be perfect. I didn’t want to show off, I just wanted to get the job done.’” He also mentions training quads in a 2018 interview (Columbia Metropolitan interview, Jan–Feb 2018): “I remember being told repeatedly that it was impossible to do a quadruple jump, and I was bound and determined to do it. I was doing them on a regular basis in 1981 and ’82, and after I stopped, I don’t think anyone tried it for another 10 years. There was another couple of guys out there working on them at the same time, and we pushed each other.”
Cockerell’s perception of the quad timeline is not quite correct and that first mention in the news of him practicing a quad is after Alexandre Fadeev (USSR) had already tried one in international competition. But did Cockerell really try a quad in competition?
Another similar case in the early 1980s was Campbell Sinclair, a Canadian who trained quad loops at least in 1982 (SkateGuard blog Airborne: A Timeline of Canadian Jumping History March 4, 2021). He did try a triple toe loop – triple loop combination which was also just about unheard of at that time, but it remains uncertain if he tried quads in competition.
If a quad is attempted and no one reports it, does it mean that it did not happen? In a way it did not happen, because only a record of almost any kind of a quad attempt would save it for the future generations to find. It is possible that journalists might not have paid attention to a quad attempt before Fadeev’s try in the big scene in 1983 triggered interest in the press and attention to that detail.
The modern development of jumps difficulty started in the 1950s when triple jumps started to get conquered: loop, Salchow and flip in the 1950s, Lutz and toe loop in the 1960s. The triple Axel was defeated only in 1978 when Vern Taylor (CAN) managed to jump a clean one in competition. Considering this, the early quadruple dreams seem perhaps overtly ambitious, but show that they were not considered impossible!
The next chapter can be found here.