Patrick Chan has changed the face of men's skating with his quad. In the build-up to the Vancouver Olympics there were two types of skaters; those with quads who built simple quad-friendly programs that lacked artistic and choreographic complexity but maximized jumping points, and those who wove triple jumps seamlessly in and out of difficult footwork with a focus on musicality, edge work and artistic integrity. Chan was a vocal proponent of the latter category, sparring verbally in the press with Brian Joubert of France who believed a champion was not worthy without the four rotations.
With a renewed determination after missing the Olympic podium in 2010, Chan seemingly mastered the jump overnight. I have watched skaters over the years painstakingly struggle to include the quad in competition. The strategy is to first include it in the long program, where it is not as risky, and then for the fortunate few who experience success, to work it into the short program.
That year after the Games, with the penalty for falling on the quad reduced, Chan went for broke adding one quad to the short and two to the long. At the Worlds, he beat the recent Olympic champion Evan Lysacheck's score by more than 20 points, and put himself out of reach of the rest of the field. I remember watching Chan compete at those Worlds in Moscow and like my peers, was blown away by how far he had come in a few months and how he had distanced himself from the pack.
Last season, Chan went undefeated as the rest of the field tried to tame the quad and deliver the artistry in the hopes of reeling him in and closing the gap. The men's language has changed from "I want to include a quad" to quite simply "I have to," and they are.
Last week at Skate America, World bronze medalist, Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan, delivered a sensational short program that opened with a stunning quad toe, beating the world record score. Yuzuru is now the man to beat in the short. The gold medal winner at Skate America, Takahiko Kozuka, had tried for four years to master the quad in competition and had, before this season, only landed four in four years. Last week at Skate America, Takahiko landed a quad in his short program and then went for two in the Free. He landed the first and stood up on the second and delivered an artistically superior program with his trademark ease and effortless edge work.
The guys are catching up, inspired by the bar set by Chan. The question is; can Chan again raise his game? He just may have to.