Opining on the off-season: Exploring new technical territories

With just under a year and a half to the Pyeongchang Olympics, we are seeing skaters trying out new skills and pushing the technical boundaries. The trend started last season, evidently in both the men's and pairs' disciplines, but we are seeing an acceleration during this summer. If you haven't been following the developments, here's a look.

Trend: More difficult quads for the men
The quad revolution has been steady ever since the IJS changed to reward quads more (and really, ever since Patrick Chan found a consistent quad and pulled away from the rest of the competition). But the revolution has been confined to the toes and sals of the world - that is, until last season.

Boyang Jin put himself on the map with a consistent quad lutz, which, along with the quad sal and quad toe, vaulted him to the top tier of men's skating. Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez followed suit fairly soon after and increased the number of quads they were doing in their programs from three to five. And as a result, Hanyu early in the season, and then Fernandez at Worlds, opened up a huge gap between them and the rest of the world. That in itself catalyzed skaters like Shoma Uno, who landed the first quad flip in competition just weeks after Worlds.

And the off season has already been full of new quad attempts in training and in competition - including a quad lutz and quad flip in the same program just last weekend from Nathan Chen. It's a bit early to tell, but this new set of jumps could turn Chen into a supremely dark horse for the World podium.

UPDATE (9/14): And now we've got Yuzuru Hanyu's big reveal - as many suspected/expected, he will be adding the quad loop to his repertoire this season in both the short and the free. So he will join Chen and Jin as skaters who will have four quads in their free skates. I wouldn't be surprised if Fernandez wasn't far behind.

Here's a catalog of the quads we might be seeing this season and the guys who are still active and/or currently training them:

  • Quad lutz (first landed in competition by Brandon Mroz in 2011) 
    • Attempted in competition: Nathan Chen, Boyang Jin, Adam Rippon
    • Attempted in training only: Dmitri Aliev, Chafik Besseghier, Nicolas Nadeau, Vincent Zhou
  • Quad flip (first landed in competition by Shoma Uno last season)
    • Attempted in competition: Nathan Chen, Shoma Uno
  • Quad loop (never landed in competition)
    • Attempted in competition: Alexei Krasnozhon, Kevin Reynolds (not currently attempting)
    • Attempted in exhibition : Javier Fernandez, Yuzuru Hanyu

Trend: More difficult throws and side-by-sides for pairs
Like the men's side, the pairs have been stepping up their technical content over the past couple of years. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford have pushed the technical boundaries with their quad sal and side-by-side triple lutz, and I've chronicled the unprecedented increase in quads (both throws and twists) that we saw last season.

This season's innovation may very well be the throw triple axel. Why? Because pairs cannot attempt quads in the short, but they can attempt the throw triple axel, which completely changes the landscape of the short program. Both Duhamel/Radford and Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot look to be adding this trick this season.

Quad throws and quad twists are still in full force, and more difficult side-by-side jumps look to be on their way as well. We are likely seeing some side-by-side loops and at least a couple of side-by-side combinations ending with a half loop-triple salchow. 

Not-yet-a-trend: Triple axels for women
The women have had a love-hate relationship with the triple axel. When Midori Ito and Tonya Harding were landing them in the early 90s, there was a bit of a race to match them. But Ito retired after 1992 (with a very brief comeback in 1996) and Harding never landed one in competition after 1991, so the urgency went away.

Rika Kihira (13 years old) with a beauty of a triple axel. Did you hear me? THIRTEEN! #figureskating #tripleaxelsundays

A video posted by Rocker Skating (@rockerskating) on

The second wave of triple axels came in the years following the Salt Lake City Olympics. Ludmila Nelidina and Yukari Nakano somehow both landed triple axels at Skate America in 2002, Kimmie Meissner landed it at US Nationals in 2005, and Mao Asada was landing it consistently in the second half of the decade. But Nelidina was never one of the top skaters in the world, and when Asada, Meissner, and Nakano were attempting them in competition, they just weren't given quite enough value for the risk.

Asada had the most consistent triple axel of the time, but the jump didn't consistently put distance between her and her competitors, partially because she had liabilities in other jumps. In the IJS world, technical content work sort of in a free market. So when it's not absolutely necessary for skaters to take the risk and train jumps to keep up with someone, the equilibrium maintains.

The most recent wave of triple axels started with Elizaveta Tuktamysheva in 2015, when she was able to put some distance between her and the rest of the field with that triple axel. The axel is now worth more base points, and Tuktamysheva had a consistent set of jumps to boot. And with that in mind and Asada making a comeback from her hiatus last season, you saw a slew of training videos during last summer of women training triple axels - from Gracie Gold to Joshi Helgesson to Courtney Hicks to Mirai Nagasu. But once Tuktamysheva's consistency fell off the map and Asada not showing consistency in her jumps, the urgency once again disappeared.

It's still way too early to tell, but will Rika Kihira usher in a new wave of triple axels? It may happen, especially if she can get that jump consistent in juniors this season.