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Figure skating’s final frontier: Is the quintuple jump possible?

Figure skating’s final frontier: Is the quintuple jump possible?

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — At the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, just two Olympics ago, the three medalists in men’s figure skating attempted a combined one quad jump, by silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko.

Saturday, the three men who made the podium attempted 10 in the long skate. Americans Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou tried a combined 11 between them alone. They finished fifth and sixth.

This is how fast men’s figure skating evolved. Once a seemingly impossible outlier is now something to be ripped off every 30 seconds. In 2010, Plushenko, angry judges didn’t reward him for pushing the limits of competition, declared the quad “the future of figure skating.”

He was right.

So how long until the “quint” – five rotations – is the future of figure skating?

It might be awhile. If ever. But you never know.

“It would be extremely difficult and you’d probably break a leg doing it,” Zhou said.

“I think doing a quint is very, very difficult,” Chen said. “Who knows? Four, eight years ago people said doing more than two quads in a long was probably impossible. Here we are.”

First, a very basic and very quick science lesson (note: very basic and very quick; it’s a lot more complicated):

To pull off spinning in the air a skater needs time off the ice and speed of rotation. Air time is generally achieved by jumping as high as possible (20 or more inches) although it can also be part as great of a distance as possible. Whatever keeps you in the air.

Rotation is done by perfectly timing the moment you pull your body in, jamming your legs together and your arms to your chest, creating the power to spin quickly. The tighter you get, the faster you rotate. Skaters can also take off at a slight angle to help with this, among other tricks. Speed into the jump and the push off the ice also contribute.

To this point, if you can get in the air long enough and create enough torque with your body, a male skater can get around four times and a woman three.

How do you get to five, though?

“You have to have time in the air; it’s not just rotation ability and torque,” said Tom Zakrajsek, an elite American coach out of the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Zakrajsek works with, among others, Zhou and Marai Nagasu, who last week became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics and competes again here Wednesday.

“Right now, the big jumpers are about 0.7 seconds-ish in the air, maybe a little more,” Zakrajsek said. “So you probably need to get closer to one second.”

This is the big issue. If it was merely spinning faster, then a quint would be just a matter of time. There isn’t a lot of room for improvement on that, though.

 you see a skater do a triple toe and their legs open up, if they have

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