Vern Taylor arrived at the Riverside Skating Club in Windsor, Ont., on September 15 to do what he’s done at that rink for the past three decades: train figure skaters. But today was different.
Taylor, who in 1978 became the first man to land a ratified triple Axel in competition, learned that the 17-year-old American Ilia Malinin performed the first quadruple Axel the night before.
“When we heard he landed it, I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s great,'” Taylor said over the phone.
He was then shown a video of Malinin’s feat.
“Anything is possible,” Taylor said. ” 43 years [later], it’s something. It’s knowing that you can perform the jump that makes it difficult.
Malinin, the world junior champion, landed the toughest jump in skating and ticked off the only quad left to perform.
At the 1978 World Championships in Ottawa, the 20-year-old Taylor broke a similar barrier by landing the last uncontrolled triple jump. But while Malinin’s senior career appears to be just beginning, and plenty of medals appear in his future, Taylor is largely a forgotten man outside of figure skating avid fans.
He finished 12th at those 1978 world championships. Taylor’s Olympic prospects in 1980 were clouded by the fact that Canada had only one berth in men’s singles and he had finished second at the national championships in 1978 and 1979 for Brian Pockar, who also beat Taylor at the world championships in those years. Taylor therefore stopped competing a year before the Lake Placid Games.
“I had no reason,” he said. “I just decided to take a break.”
Taylor will always have that day at the world championships in Ottawa. He still remembers the nervousness, knowing that two other skaters were also planning to attempt a triple Axel. They failed, although Taylor does not know it.
“I didn’t see their jumps,” he said. “I didn’t want to know what awaited me.”
American David Jenkins landed a triple Axel in Movietone newsreels reported as 1957, but it was not in competition.
Taylor, skating to the music of “Rocky,” placed the triple Axel as the third jump of his program, according to reports at the time. The only YouTube video of it, published two years ago, has 32,000 views. It shows Taylor landing the three-and-a-half-rev jump on one foot and stepping out while still managing to stay on that single skate blade amidst a roar of the crowd.
“During this program, it was like a rock concert,” Taylor said. “I had the energy of the audience.”
The Montreal Gazette reported at the time that the jump was ratified three hours later. Italian Sonia Bianchettithe male referee of the 1978 Worlds, said he met the assistant referee, the president of the ISU and a technical delegate.
“During this short meeting, it was recognized that Vern had completed the first triple Axel Paulson jump [Norwegian Axel Paulsen was the skater who landed the first Axel jump in 1882, getting it named after him] in an officially recognized figure skating competition,” she wrote in an email last month. “The triple Axel was fully spun and landed on one foot.”
One of the people inside the Ottawa Civic Center that day was a 16-year-old Canadian Brian Orser. Orser, inspired by Taylor, later became synonymous with jumping – labeled “Mr. Triple Axel” and clinched it en route to silver medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and the 1987 world title.
Orser recalled Taylor visiting his skating club for an exhibition. Orser saw Taylor do an Axel take-off drill off the ice, incorporated it into his own routine, and began teaching it to his skaters after becoming a coach.
Yet another Canadian, Kurt Bruningwas the first man to land a ratified quadruple jump of any kind in competition – a toe loop at the 1988 World Championships.
“For me, personally, it was huge,” he said, “because I was promised a car if I could land it.”
Through an agreement with an Edmonton car dealership, Browning received the keys to a Quattro — quad/quattro – after hitting the toe loop. The skater was unaware that the dealership was simply renting it to him. About six months later, Browning received a call asking to bring the car back.
Browning was inspired by America Brian Boitano, which he has already seen land a quad outside the competition. Taylor motivated him too.
“[Taylor] gave me permission, even at a young age, to start thinking bigger,” he said.
Browning also pointed out Jozef Sabovčik, a 1980s skater for then-Czechoslovakia who many believe was the first man to land a quad in competition, Browning included. Sabovčík was initially recognized for a quadruple toe loop at the 1986 European Championshipsbut weeks later he was disabled because he landed with his free foot, according to reports.
“I never want to sound arrogant, but despite what the ISU [International Skating Union] decided in the end, I know I made the jump that day,” wrote Sabovčík, who said he performed a quad jump on his birthday until he was 44, in a E-mail. “The fact that most people in the skateboarding world believe the same thing means everything to me that Kurt was one of them. It would have been nice to have my name in the Guinness Book of Records, but neither am I trying to change history.
Sabovčík, now 58 and a Salt Lake City coach, attended the March world championships in Montpellier, France, where Malinin finished ninth. There he spoke with Malinin’s parents, Uzbek Olympic skaters of Russian descent Tatiana Malinina and Roman Skorniakovwhom he calls friends.
“They told me that he was already ride a quad Axel on a fishing rod harness [in practice]and he was coming,” Sabovčík said.
Less than two months after that conversation, the first video surfaced of Malinin landing a clean Axel quad – at an American figure skating jump camp.
“I did not think [a quad Axel] was possible,” Sabovčík said. “He really has to be an athlete who can combine technical ability with jumping ability with rotational speed. When Kurt and I jumped, we had a relatively slow rotation, but we jumped really big compared to those kids. But Ilia, he has the vertical lift, but he [also] has an incredibly fast rotation.
The recent proliferation of quads in men’s and women’s skating can be attributed to several factors, including better boots, better ice conditions, and improvements in technology that can aid training. Still, there are concerns about if and how pounding practice quads can physically exhaust a skater.
“It’s a lot of pain that you don’t feel at first, but you know it comes later,” said the Frenchwoman Surya Bonalywho started training a quad in 1989 and tried it until the mid-1990s. Bonaly underwent two hip surgeries after his competitive career.
Even Taylor was confronted with these questions.
“People said, ‘Aren’t you afraid of getting hurt?’ “, he said. “I would say, ‘No, I want you to know it can be done. “”
Sabovčík never tried a quad Axel during his skating days, but Browning did for less than a week in the early 1990s after winning four consecutive world titles.
“Just play with it,” said Browning, who has never tried it in competition. “Ilia has this special ability to not only get up in the air, but he also has this nice spin that doesn’t feel rushed. It’s quick, it’s lightning fast, but it doesn’t feel rushed. It’s so easy. Like a good golfer swings easily and the ball travels 400 yards.
Browning recalls a conversation he had with the two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who in recent years has made the quad Axel his quest. Hanyu attempted it competitively last season but didn’t land it cleanly before retiring in July. He said in retirement that he still hoped to master the jump for his non-competitive show career.
“I once asked Yuzu, ‘When you ride a quad Axel, do you feel like you’re up there forever? “, Browning said. “And he kind of looked at me weird, and he said, ‘Yeah, like it never ends.'”
The skating world awaits Hanyu’s reserved thoughts on Malinin’s quad.
“Knowing Yuzu, I think he would be very supportive,” said Orser, who coached Hanyu for nearly a decade. “He enjoys that kind of athleticism.”
Orser also noted what comes with being the first — and so far only — skater to land a rarefied jump. Malinin, who will headline Skate America in two weeks, will be asked about the Axel quad in just about every interview for the foreseeable future. For some skaters, they may feel responsible for landing it all the time.
“But I don’t think [Malinin] think about it too much,” Orser said. “His technique is perfect, so he will be fine.”
The inevitable topic after that is the next progression in skating: the first quintuple jump. Orser said Hanyu performed five-rotation salchows using a harness.
“It’s just a bit more rotation than the quadruple Axel, so it’s not that far off,” said Sabovčík, whose unconfirmed quadruple toe curl came eight years after Taylor’s triple Axel. “Now that I’ve seen the Axel quad, I don’t think it’s impossible.”
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