Russian men’s figure skater Evgeni Plushenko has been strutting around, announcing that men’s figure skating isn’t figure skating without the quad. In the other corner are the several top men’s figure skaters who don’t have the quad, but have what Plushenko no longer has: stellar footwork, spins, energy, and speed.
Canadian men introduced the quad to men’s competition. Kurt Browning landed it for the first time in competition successfully; Elvis Stojko landed a quad combo for the first time in competition successfully. And so it’s a tad strange to see Canadian men after Elvis left the ice rink, to no longer even attempt the quad at the Olympics, while others not only master it but also try for two quad jumps in the 4.5-minute free skate.
The CTV commentators said that the quad sucks energy out of a skater, and perhaps executing Level 4 footwork (apparently, the highest level of footwork and one that Canada’s newest men’s champion does) after doing a quad is the real challenge. After Plushenko executed his quad combo to open his free skate, he noticeably slowed down and never picked up. And not only was his speed was slower than one would expect, especially after all his braggadocio, his footwork couldn’t touch Chan’s or some of the other skaters, and he looked ugly inflexible in his spins.
Meanwhile, the skaters without the quad relied heavily on tripe Axels and triple-triple combos to get those high technical scores. Some, particularly Johnny Weir, stopped an awful lot, a great way to conserve energy and be better able to execute the difficult elements. It may’ve looked balletic, but it was a bit of a cheat.
In the end, I still agree with the judges decision that Evan Lysacek won the Olympic gold, despite Plushenko’s pouting. He skated well, unlike Plushenko, and while Plushenko had the quad, Lysacek had everything else. With all due respect to our former champ, Elvis is wrong. Plushenko was not the champion. He relied entirely on the quad to get the gold; his footwork, speed, and most definitely his spins did not hold up to others. But I do agree that men’s is in a bit of a disaster zone and seems to be regressing.
But looking solely to the quad is not the answer. Skaters who can only jump are boring to watch; skaters who can only do the artistic and/or only the footwork are also a bit boring. Champions should come from the pool of men willing to push the jumping envelope – how about some new jumps, not just new quad combos – and to perfect the edges, speed, footwork, and spin elements, and to put all these elements together with stellar choreography and music that moves. Mastering the entire package is where the real challenge lies.