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Mroz attempting to push boundaries of sport

Colorado Springs skater plans to incorporate three different quads into free skate

Brandon Mroz is attempting to become the new Quad King.
Brandon Mroz is attempting to become the new Quad King. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(09/27/2011) - Brandon Mroz is taking figure skating to new heights -- four revolutions at a time.

Over the past month, Mroz has been adding several quads to his repertoire: quad loops, quad flips and quad Lutzes. As of Sept. 16, 2011, none of those quads had been landed successfully in competition -- until Mroz landed a quad Lutz in his short program at the Colorado Springs Invitational (CSI).

So, now U.S. Figure Skating officials are trying busily to get Mroz's achievement into the skating record book. Mroz's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said he talked to ISU officials (ISU sports directorate Peter Krick among them) last week at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, where he was coaching another skater, Max Aaron, the 2011 U.S. men's junior champion.

Meanwhile, in Colorado Springs at the World Arena Ice Hall, home of the famed Broadmoor Skating Club, Mroz's quads continue to be the talk of the sport on this side of the Atlantic. Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating's senior director of high performance, stopped by last week to get a firsthand look. U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director David Raith said he has been in contact with the ISU, and spokeswoman Barb Reichert said U.S. Figure Skating plans to submit a formal request to the ISU soon.

Even Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, who was in town to emcee the 2011 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Assembly awards dinner, said she wanted to get a look.

And emails and texts were flying from the rink to Zakrajsek to see if any skaters in Germany (most notably Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic) were going to take their stab at skating history, too. According to Zakrajsek, Brezina was landing a host of quads in practice. (In competition, however, Brezina did not land a quad loop, flip or Lutz.)

The big question is not whether Mroz landed the quad Lutz but whether he landed it in a competition worthy of such a record. Typically, skaters landed in the record book at major events. Even though the Colorado Springs Invitational is a nonqualifying competition, it still followed the rules of the international judging system, and top-caliber officials were presiding over the event.

Mroz, 20, has been taking the dizzying news in stride and chuckled a bit over the attention when a reporter stopped by last week.

"It is kind of groundbreaking," Mroz said after practice. "Everyone wants to get a peek at it and see if the urban legend is true."

Many skating fans have seen Mroz's quad Lutz on YouTube, but, indeed, it is the real deal live, too.

During a run-through of his short program to Frank Sinatra's "Mack the Knife," Mroz landed a gorgeous quad Lutz, which garnered cheers from onlooking skaters. Mroz was happy with the jump but wanted more.

"I wanted to do the combination," he said.

Translated: he wanted to land a quad Lutz-triple toe.

Talk about pushing the envelope.

In fact, for his free skate, he plans to perform the quad Lutz, quad flip and quad loop.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Mroz's surge of quads is how sudden it has come about. He just started trying them last month.

"I just decided to go for it," he said.

One day, while warming up, he tried the loop. Then came the flip and then the Lutz. He didn't use a harness. He didn't consult a sports psychologist.

The result?

"I landed one [quad loop] that day," he said. "It wasn't a plus-three GOE, but I did it."

The sensation of landing these quads is unlike anything else he has experienced.

"It feels like a drill," he said, "A power drill." Then he added, "It's very intense."

These quads might have appeared overnight, but they have been in the back of Mroz's mind for some time. He knew the jumping technique was there; it was just a matter of taking it to another level.

Mroz has never been one to back off from trying new things, even if they are risky. At the 2009 U.S. Championships in Cleveland, he performed a quad toe and earned a silver medal in his senior debut at nationals.

He continued to attempt quads, with varying degrees of success. He dropped to sixth at nationals in 2010 and missed making the U.S. Olympic team in Vancouver, a setback that almost ended his competitive skating career. He continued on, and heading into the 2011 U.S. Championships, he was the only American man in the field to have land a quad at an international competition. But a dislocated shoulder thwarted his efforts at nationals, and he placed seventh.

In recent years, many skaters shied away from quads because the judging system did not make the risk worth the reward. The rules have changed, however, making the jump a risk worth taking, but Mroz said the judging system never played into his strategy.

He wanted to push the sport.

"For me, the quad is not a race for the record book," he said. "It was a race for my own pride. I'm just a true athlete at heart."

"I think the quads would've happened for me regardless [of the rules]. Not risking the quad has never been taboo. There have been competitions where I'd done it and it paid off, and competitions where I hadn't done it and it didn't."

For Mroz, the biggest challenge might be keeping his composure should he land his opening quad Lutz combination in the short program.

"That was the hardest part when I did it at CSI -- keeping the rest of the program intact," Mroz said. "I had to stop and think, 'OK, how many more elements do I have left? I'm only 20 seconds into this.'"

Those who witnessed his quad lutz at CSI were impressed.

"It was a beauty," said Kathy Casey, a world and Olympic coach who was at the competition. "There was no doubt about it."

The technical specialist for the senior men's event was Terry Kubicka, who, interestingly, was the first American to land a triple Lutz. The referee at CSI, Les Cramer, who witnessed Kubicka's triple Lutz at the 1974 national championships, had no doubt that Mroz landed the jump.

"It was very clear that it happened," said Cramer, a skating official for 48 years. "It was a small competition, but I think Brandon is very fortunate that Terry had been assigned to the event. I think the most important point here was that this was done with the IJS [being used] in full force."

Still, the ISU needs to decide whether Mroz's quad Lutz is good enough, and as of yet, no official determination has been made.

History has shown this can be a tricky process. When Timothy Goebel landed a quad Salchow at the Junior Grand Prix Final in 1998, he was ever so fortunate that the father of another skater caught the moment on videotape. Still, it was not until the ISU reviewed the film at the 1998 world championships that he earned his spot in history.

Goebel, who has worked with Mroz in the past, heard the news about the quad Lutz and said he was excited by it.

Mroz is entered in the 2012 Southwestern Regional Championships, set for Oct. 21-25 in Grapevine, Texas. He is required to compete in this event because he did not place among the top five at nationals. For most top skaters, competing at regionals might not seem like a drag, but for Mroz, it might be the perfect place for him to get his quad Lutz (and perhaps other quads) in the public eye.

And, perhaps, into skating history.