Figure skaters remain in the air for just 0.6 or 0.7 second when they perform quadruple jumps, which involve four full revolutions.

In that split second, the performers try to mobilize their athletic skills and capabilities to the full. To land a quad, a skater needs to instantly coordinate the height of the jump, the speed of the revolutions and the tilting of the axis of rotation in a proper way.

A slight error in attempting this aerial kinetic feat causes an awkward and costly crash landing.

It is a decisive moment that determines whether the skater flies into joy or slips into disappointment.

The men’s free skating event in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, held Feb. 17, was a physical fireworks display of quads.

I know the sport is the complicated and comprehensive art of bodily performances involving also such elements as steps, spins and movements in harmony with music. When I cover figure skating competition in the arena, however, my attention tends to focus on the jumps.

During the Feb. 17 event in South Korea, I was enthralled by the heady atmosphere created by the powerful combination of the sharp intensity of the contenders’ concentration and wild emotional swings shown by the audience as they watched top figure skaters stage their performances.

Jumps became key elements in figure skating performances after the end of World War II.

In the 1948 St. Moritz Winter Olympics, 18-year-old American Dick Button won the gold in the men’s figure skating event by becoming the first person to complete a double axel in competition. Button attempted a triple at the 1952 Oslo Winter Games.

An Asahi Shimbun report on his performance in Oslo said he staged a “powerful performance” and defended his Olympic gold medal by exhibiting a “new technique.”

It was the first time that a triple jump was completed in competition.

It was 26 years later that a triple axel was completed for the first time. Another 10 years passed before the first successful execution of a quad in competition.

Canadian Kurt Browning landed a quad at the 1988 World Championships in Budapest for the first time in the history of figure skating.

As he was relatively new to figure skating competition, Browning decided to attempt a quad in desperate efforts to make his face remembered by the judges, he later recalled.

It took an additional three decades for the sport to evolve into the current battle of the quads.

According to analyses of active figure skaters’ performances, quintuple jumps are theoretically possible.

As long as figure skating exists, there will be no end to skaters’ bold attempts to perform tougher jumps.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.