Quad quandary: Canadian pair spark stampede of figure skating's most difficult and dangerous jump

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China perform during the pairs free skate program at the Skate America figure skating competition in Milwaukee, Wisconsin October 24, 2015. Fifty-six Olympic and world championship athletes are competing in the event, which is the first of six stops on the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (REUTERS)

BOSTON - Pair skaters hurt. All the time. And especially since the reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford started a quad stampede last season.

Now everybody has to have one.

Pair skating is already the most risky of all the pair disciplines. The race for quads has made it riskier still. Nobody knows this better than Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the world silver medalists and three-time Four Continents champions.

Sui and Han are tiny pair skaters, shorter than their peers, and have had to resort to the big pair tricks to climb the ranks.

But it has cost them.  Sui, now 20, missed most of the 2013-2014 season because of severe epiphysitis, a condition caused by the jump's crushing impact on her young bones. She also severed four ligaments, a problem that still affects her.

Even when they won their three junior world pair championships, they were doing quad twists and quad throws. They did a quad throw Salchow at the 2012 Four Continents, but set it aside until this season, after having seen Duhamel and Radford use one to win worlds last year. They landed their first throw quad Salchow in four years when they won Four Continents last month.

They also landed a quad twist at Four Continents in their free program. But before the event, Sui had fallen on a throw jump and hit her head. The fall affected her sight. She couldn’t see very well out of her left eye. They trained sporadically before the event. Coach Zhao Hongbo says it’s fine now.

The twist is such a dangerous element that Canadian pair Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro suffered a nasty fall attempting a triple twist in the short program at the Canadian championships in Halifax in January. As Marinaro launched Moore-Towers into the air, he fell, landing flatly on his chest. She crashed hard on her left hip.

Miraculously, they scrambled to their feet and did a triple toe loop jump 15 seconds later. They finished the event but not well enough to make the world team. But they were more seriously hurt than anyone knew.

Both suffered similar injuries: displaced ribs, body misalignment. For three weeks, Moore-Towers thought she may have fractured a rib, but she hadn’t. They were off the ice for three weeks, and four weeks out from the injury, they could do no jumps, throws or lifts.

They had healed when Skate Canada asked them to skate in Boston after the withdrawal of Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau because of injury from a practice fall.

Moore-Towers says she remembers nothing of the fall. She recalls only taking her final position. They'd been on autopilot.

Most male pair skaters suffer shoulder injuries. Olympic champion Maxim Trankov of Russia missed last season with his partner Tatiana Volosozhar after he underwent shoulder surgery. He said earlier this season that he will not attempt quads because he does not want to injure Volosozhar, who is now his wife.

And Olympic silver medalist Fedor Klimov of Russia has had troubles ever since he won the Grand Prix Final with partner Ksenia Stolbova in December. Klimov injured his right shoulder to the point that he could not lift his arm above his shoulder. The pair has not been able to train lifts or twists for 2 ½ months, and they got back onto the ice only 2 ½ weeks ago.

Duhamel and Radford are one of the few pairs that have avoided injury while training quads – and earlier this season, they had been training a rare throw quad Lutz, too.

“Eric and I are not reckless with our technical elements,” Duhamel said. “When we learned [the two quad throws] we took the time to make sure we do it accurately.”

Duhamel believes her body is built to handle the pressure of a quad throw. “I have a very compact, muscular body,” she said.

Radford says he begs to differ from some other skaters who say quads are dangerous, but teams must pick their spots.

“If you look at the Chinese team, their twists have always been strong,” Radford said. “For them to work on a quad twist isn’t as dangerous as it would be for Meagan and I to try because the twist is not our strength. It’s not our highlight element.

“Learning the throw quad Salchow wasn’t dangerous for us,” he said. “There are dangers in learning any new element. It’s just a matter of a calculated risk and natural ability.”

Among the group competing this week at the world championships, there have been only three clean throw quad Salchows landed internationally this season: two by Duhamel and Radford and one by the Chinese. Quads aren’t allowed in the short program.

For more figure skating from Beverley Smith, go to BevSmithWrites.Worldpress.com, and follow her on Twitter @BevSmithWrites