The Great Leap Forward: Establishing the Quads in the 1990s

The initial excitement of attempting (1983) and getting the first landed quad in competition (1988) was great, but the quad revolution remained a tiny twirl in the sea of figure skating for almost a decade. The number of jumps and skaters per season remained low: by the end of the 1995–96 season, quads had been attempted 49 times by 18 skaters (in addition, there were six pops).

The highest number of attempts per season was four by Surya Bonaly (FRA) in the 1991–92 season. One first was achieved: when Elvis Stojko (CAN) attempted his first quad at the 1991 Worlds, he did a 4T in combination with a 2T and landed both parts clean – the first ever quad combination! But overall, mastering a quad seemingly remained unimportant for most skaters. (As before, all the links embedded in skater names lead to their Wikipedia pages.)

Elvis Stojko (CAN) and the first quad combo as the fifth (!) elemnt in his free program.

The Season of Change: 1996-97

Things started to change in the 1996–97 season. The number of quads for that season was still low, only 20, but considering that the attempts totals per season had been below 10 since 1991–92, this was a significant step.

The number of skaters jumping quads, nine, was also higher than ever before. Some of the men who had tried quads before came back that season (Konstantin Kostin (LAT), Alexei Urmanov (RUS), Szabolcs Vidrai (HUN), Michael Weiss (USA) in addition to two young Russian newbies, Ilia Kulik and Alexei Yagudin. Stojko did five quads during the season, which is also unprecedented – the previous top count had been four in 1991–92. Guo Zhengxin (CHN) might have tried six times, but there is no evidence for the Chinese Nationals or the World Championships qualifying for him.

The Olympic season 1997–98 more than doubled the number of jumps and jumpers to 46 and 13. Todd Eldredge (USA) was among the first timers that season after having been an eligible skater for a decade. The most notable new names were teenagers Evgeni Plushenko (RUS) and Timothy Goebel (USA). Plushenko was only 14 years old when he tried a quad in a competition and Goebel was one of the first to jump quads in junior competitions. Goebel was also going for both 4T and 4S. The Quad King of the 1997–98 season was, however, Guo Zhengxin with eight jumps.

The next two seasons witnessed further growth in quad attempts and quadsters as shown in this table:


But WHY?

The reasons for this rather quick change are somewhat hard to understand. It is possible that allowing quads in the short program was being discussed in the community although it was apparently not a topic at the 1996 ISU Congress  as reported in the SkateGuard blog. The decision to allow quads in the short was made at the ISU Congress in the summer of 1998, two years after the changes in the quad scene.

It is also possible that the 1998 Olympics somehow triggered the development and skaters started to work on their jump repertoire the season before. But why would Nagano have had a such different effect than Albertville or Lillehammer before?

It is also possible that quads just finally became something that more skaters than ever before wanted to achieve.

Technical advances in competitive sports often occur thanks to pioneers trying and executing them. In the case of quads in the mid-1990s, this kind of pioneering action is hard to recognize. Quads were not a novelty although they had not become as common as one might have expected. Stojko and Urmanov had been there doing quads for some time, but their example seems not to have been enough to inspire others before 1996–97.

Ilia Kulik has sometimes been mentioned as a possible inspiration. He had become a champion level skater very quickly in the mid-1990s and the 1996–97 season was his third in seniors. His first quad attempt in competition (as far as is known) took place at the Russian Nationals in December 1996 – so he was not really in the front line.

Ilia Kulik (RUS) at the Russian Nationals and his first quad attempt on record.

The inspirational role has also been suggested for the three teenagers, Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko, and Timothy Goebel. Goebel and Plushenko started to jump quads in competition only in the fall 1997, so they were not leaders for the new wave of quadsters. Yagudin is a more likely candidate with three pops in the fall part of the 1996–97 season. Kulik and Yagudin could have inspired old-timer Urmanov to get his quad into competition shape again as all three Russians tried quads at the European Championships in January 1997.

All these skaters were part of the wave, though, they cannot really be considered the cause. Could the inspiration have come earlier? In the previous season, 1995–96, two new skaters entered the ranks of quadsters that could have been an incentive for others to try harder: Takeshi Honda (JPN) tried both 4T and 4S in his first senior competition at the age of 14. Guo Zhengxin displayed very good quality and consistent quads. Rumors of multiple Chinese skaters with quads went around only slightly later. Were these subtle signs enough to inspire both old and new skaters to attempt more quads?

It is also possible that something was changed in the judging. Before 1996, it was clear that relatively small mistakes, particularly those in jumps, were enough to hinder victories or even podium positions (unless everyone skated badly). Risk-taking with new and difficult elements was not encouraged by the 6.0 judging system. The quads were not consistent for most skaters: after Kurt Browning’s (CAN) first landed 4T in spring 1988 until the end of 1996–97 season, some 80 quads had been attempted and only a third of them were clean or close to (28 = 35%). The quad had potential to make the results poorer rather than be a tool for a victory.

A possible change in attitudes towards mistakes can be traced by counting pops, attempts that remained single, double or triple toe loops when a quad was expected. The numbers for all the seasons since 1982-83 compared to 1996-97 are interesting:

YearsSeasonsPops / Attempts
1983-961313 / 71
1996-97111 / 20

Most of the eight skaters who tried quads in the 1996–97 season also popped them: Eldredge and Kulik once, Honda twice, Weiss three times, and Yagudin four.

What changed? Did skaters and/or coaches decide it was time for risk-taking? Or did judging become a little more tolerant towards the big jumps (3A and quads) and the risks to perfection they involved?

Whatever the reason, the next stage of the quad was somehow in the air in 1996–97. The following seasons clinched its fate as an element a wanna-be top skater should have in his repertoire.

A Look at the 1990s Quad Statistics

The statistics of the 1990s show that the toe loop was by far the most popular jump, although the Salchow was jumped occasionally. Timothy Goebel landed the first clean 4S at the 1998 Junior Grand Prix Final. Yevhen Plyuta (previously transcribed as Evgeni Pliuta) (UKR) did the first quadruple Lutz attempt at the 1997 Nebelhorn Trophy and was soon joined by Michael Weiss – neither got one clean, though.

Toe loop27634

The quad was allowed in the short program from the 1998–99 season onwards. The first skater to try a quad in the short was apparently Derek Schmidt (CAN) in some national competitions already in the late summer. The first to get a clean quad in the short program was Zhang Min (CHN) at the 1999 Four Continents. The quad in the short was usually a solo toe loop – only Elvis Stojko attempted a combination in the 1999–2000 season.

Quads in combinations started to become more common and towards the end of decade a handful of skaters were trying two quads in the free (Elvis Stojko, Ilia Klimkin (RUS), Yamato Tamura (JPN), Zhang Min, Timothy Goebel, Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko). Skaters with two different types of quads could go for three quads in the free skate, but only Timothy Goebel was able to do that regularly with his toe loop and Salchow (five times before the end of the 1999–2000 season).

The quadsters of the 1990s were the first ones to attempt quads regularly and relatively frequently. However, the career totals were not particularly high for most, often below 10. But there are 11 skaters whose totals would be respectable even for a much later jumping career.

Evgeni Plushenko was quite likely the first to reach 100 quad attempts in international competitions and this happened in the 2005–06 season (a quite reliable total as there are only three uncertain quad attempts for him). Plushenko tried the quad Lutz once in competition (2001 Cup of Russia) but could do the toe loop in combination, even with two triples. His career total, both national and international attempts included is 138, a testament to his long career as he could only do maximum three quads per competition.

Timothy Goebel’s career total (also international and national attempts) probably got a little more than 100 quads. The US federation calculated his international total to be 76 (USFSA news piece in the web archive), but I have found 82 attempts (and this does not include the four uncertain attempts Goebel has).

Big names tend to be well-documented, and their career totals are reliable. Videos exist only for top skaters and their best performances, very few others get mentioned in written reports. But for others, it is more difficult to do the counts.

Li Chengjiang (CHN) is probably the second skater with 100 quad attempts in international competitions, but there are quite a few uncertain attempts for him. Li’s 100 could have happened towards the end of his career in the late 2000s. It has been possible to find 74 international quad attempts for Zhang Min, but he could have quite a few more with 22 possible attempts – he was quite consistent. I would also imagine that these Chinese men and others were trying quads in their domestic competitions, but there is no information on those until the early 2010s.

A comparison between the first and the last season of the 1990s is mindboggling:

SeasonJumpsSkatersCombosMost quads
1990-911161Surya Bonaly 3
Alexei Urmanov 3
1999-20001242027Timothy Goebel 21

The numbers for the 1999–2000 season are also quite good when compared with the data from the decade to come. The speed with which this happened – only four seasons! – is also amazing. Mastering the quad takes time after all, but it seems that the generation of men starting in the mid- to late 1990s were truly going for them. I hope it is possible to find out a little bit about their motivation and especially how it all really began in the 1996–97 season.

Women in the 1990s Scene

It is also worth noting women in the 1990s. Surya Bonaly was of course the pioneer and she kept attempting quads until the 1995–96 season. There are also reports of other women training quads – possibly Tonya Harding (USA), but with certainty Nancy Kerrigan (USA) and Tara Lipinski (USA). Both women have mentioned this in interviews.

But overall, the first wave of the quad revolution did not involve very many women. Triples and triple–triple combinations were enough to win major competitions for them. Surya Bonaly has also stated that the athletic ambition resulting in quads in competitions was simply not expected of or encouraged for women (interview in Time Magazine in 2022).


Many skating fans seem to think that the judging change in the early 2000s, the introduction of the International Judging System (IJS), made jumps the most important part of skating. However, the development of the quads shows that the roots of the importance of the most difficult jumps, quads and 3As, were firmly planted in the 1990s, long before the principles of the IJS were even thought about.

It seems that until the late 1990s, the International Skating Union (ISU) had relatively little to do with the development of the quadruple jump. Was the lead forwards in the 1996-97 season caused by a decision to change judging principles? Maybe. The decision to allow a quad in the short program in 1998 was a clear action towards encouraging skaters to train quadruples.

The 1996-97 season stands out as a watershed: before that the quads were attempted by few, but after it the quad became a serious pursuit for anyone seriously aiming to become an elite figure skater. It also possibly marks the end of the pioneering era when skaters were exploring their own boundaries and chasing impossible dreams with the officials of the sport content to follow from the sidelines.

Want to know more?

Read the posts outlining the development before the 1980s and in the 1980s by clicking on the links!

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