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Quad jump is the rage in men's skating

Ilya Kulik has one. Elvis Stojko almost had two. Even the 17-year-old Russian upstart, Alexei Yagudin, has it. And Todd Eldredge? That depends.

In men's skating, the quad is the latest rage. That's quad as in quadruple jump. As in launch yourself into the air, turn four times around and land on a blade that's no thicker than a strand of spaghetti.It just might be the make-or-break move of the Nagano Games for the men, who start competition Thursday with the short program. Land it, then don't screw up anything else and a medal is yours. Fall and you can plan on going home empty.

Don't even bother trying it, and, well, no one's quite sure about that yet.

"It all depends on what the other guys are doing," said Stojko, a three-time world champion. "If everybody misses the quad, does it really matter?"

Despite all the fuss, the quad isn't anything new. Four-time world champion Kurt Browning landed the first - a quadruple toe loop - in 1988, and at least a dozen skaters have officially done it in competition since then. No American has ever landed it, though Michael Weiss came close at the last two national championships.

The quad's been around for so long that some skaters are now doing it in combination, tacking on a double or triple jump after landing the quad. Stojko even toyed with the idea of doing two quads during his free skate, though not in combination.

But until a few years ago, the quad was still a pretty rare thing. Getting the lift and power necessary to turn four times in the air isn't easy, and only one or two of the top skaters could land it on a regular basis. Those who couldn't didn't even bother trying.

Now everyone who's anyone is doing it. If they don't, they'd better have a good reason.

"It's very important," said Kulik, the silver medalist at the 1996 world championships. "All the guys are quite tough, so I think it's necessary."

"The top five or six skaters are nearly the same," agreed Alexei Mischin, Yagudin's coach. "Who needs the quad? Not the skater. The judges need the quad to compare one to the other."

But not everyone agrees.

"You have to have the whole package," said Eldredge, who's tried the quad only once in competition.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Scouting report: Men's figure skating

Elvis Stojko

Nation: Canada.

Age: 25.

Tidbit: Other Elvis' namesake.

Claim to fame: Three-time world champion.

Key to a medal: Must skate two clean programs and land his quad-triple jump combination.

Todd Eldredge

Nation: USA.

Age: 26.

Tidbit: Skate America winner after dislocating his shoulder during warm-ups.

Claim to fame: Won four nationals since 1990.

Key to a medal: Stick a quadruple jump.

Ilya Kulik

Nation: Russia.

Age: 20.

Tidbit: Bad back caused him to miss January's European Championships.

Claim to fame: 1996 world silver medalist.

Key to a medal: Repeat performance of '95 European Championships and nail quad toe jump.

Alexei Yagudin

Nation: Russia.

Age: 17.

Tidbit: He's the European champion but has never won the Russian nationals.

Claim to fame: 1997 world bronze medalist.

Key to a medal: Relax.

Michael Weiss

Nation: USA.

Age: 21.

Tidbit: His father was an Olympic gymnast; his mother a national gym champion.

Claim to fame: has come closer to landing a quad than any U.S. skater.

Key to a medal: Wait four years.

Quadruple toe loop

1 Approach on left foot

2 Takeoff from right foot with left toe pick, turning counterclockwise

Four rotations

3 Landing on right foot