Figure skating is an undeniably intense sport. The jumps have gotten more and more difficult over the years, and the competition is stiff, but even with skaters like Mirai Nagasu setting American records at the Pyeongchang Olympics, no female has come close to the amazing jumping feat achieved by a 14-year-old in the early 2000s.
Triple axels may be among the rarest of sights in women's singles skating today—only eight women have successfully landed them in competition—but there's only a single woman in the world who has ever landed a quadruple jump while competing. If you don't already know her name, it's time to learn it.
Japanese skater Miki Ando went into the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final in the Netherlands as a young up-and-comer, but she left as the only female figure skater in history to successfully land a quadruple jump (a quad salchow) in competition. Other women, including France's Surya Bonaly and America's Sasha Cohen, landed quadruple jumps in practice, but never an official performance.
“For me the quad was normal,” Ando told the Japan Times in a 2017 article while reflecting on that moment. “You learn a single, then a double, then a triple. The next step was a quad.”
"When I did the quad salchow, figure skating was not a big sport in Japan,” Ando said. “That’s probably also why it doesn’t feel so special to me. I was 14 and I had no idea what was going on. I remember they made some announcement (at the rink) in English and I heard my name, but I could not understand English at that time, so I didn’t think much of it."
Even though her legacy as an athlete is undeniably strong, Ando never took home an Olympic medal. She did represent Japan at the 2006 and 2010 Games though, earning 15th and 5th places respectively, before moving on to take the gold at the World Championships after each post-Olympic year in 2007 and 2011.
Ando's success is especially astounding considering the physics of a quadruple jump. To land it, skaters must propel themselves forward with enough momentum to successfully rotate four times in under a second. As Quartz reports, the jump requires skaters to withstand impact from eight to 10 times their body weight before they stop rotating, land cleanly, and continue on artistically as if they hadn't just defied gravity for a moment.
At this year's Olympics, some of the male skating athletes, including American Nathan Chen, will attempt quads in their programs. Chen successfully landed five quads in one program during the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, so there's a good chance we'll see them make a successful appearance during the men's events in Pyeongchang.
Until another woman cleanly lands a quad though, Ando's legacy will remain untouched. The 2018 Winter Games are unlikely to provide that moment, based on what the athletes have planned for their performances, but watch Tuesday night's short program (from 8 p.m. ET) and Thursday's free program (from 8 p.m. ET) on NBC to find out.