Present and future shock in sparkling nationals short program, with Ilia Malinin bursting into Olympic contention

2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships - Day 3
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In a span of less than 15 minutes, everyone watching the men’s short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships saw a summary of the last decade in men’s singles skating.

You had a 17-year-old, Ilia Malinin, whose Instagram handle is @quadg0d, burst onto the senior nationals scene with a demonstration of why that choice of sobriquet was not self-aggrandizing and how fast a mastery of big jumps can push a skater toward podiums at significant events. He is a young man for these times in the sport.

And next you had a 27-year-old, Jason Brown, who competed in his first senior nationals 11 years ago, using his mastery of movement, expression and edge work as he fights to stay on podiums without the big jumps that bring big rewards in the sport’s judging system. His skating is timeless and yet relatively out of fashion on contemporary score sheets.

Malinin and Brown each was brilliant in his own way during a competition Saturday in which the overall level was extraordinary, with Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou taking command at the top and others, like Jimmy Ma and Camden Pulkinen, earning career-best scores with performances that commanded full attention.

“That was a pretty incredible competition,” Zhou said, “not just in U.S. history but in relation to ISU international competitions. Definitely an insane, high-level event.”

What Chen, Zhou and Brown did was not unexpected, even if Brown had endured a 33-hour, two-day, four-airline, five-flight-cancellation, one-rental-car trip from Toronto to Nashville that would have left many people unable to stand, let alone skate with passion and near perfection, barely 24 hours after finally arriving.

“I’m just so prepared,” Brown said of his ability to shake off the mental and physical affects of the odyssey. “Especially with the (pandemic) situation right now, you’ve just got to be open and game for whatever comes.”

What Malinin did a year after a foot injury kept him from nationals suddenly has thrown him into serious consideration for one of the three U.S. men’s singles spots at next month’s Winter Olympics – provided, of course, he can do it again in Sunday afternoon’s free skate.

“I know if I can do what I normally do, I can definitely get that Olympic spot,” Malinin said

Chen racked up 115.39 points, getting 20.88 by doing a quad lutz-triple toe loop combination in the bonus period (second half) of the program. Zhou had 112.78, including even more (21.29) for the same combination done before the bonus. Malinin had 103.46, Brown 100.84.

“It was surprising to see that score,” Malinin said. “I kind of dreamed of getting over 100, but I never knew I could do it.”

He did it on the strength of two quadruple jumps (lutz and toe, the latter followed by a triple toe in combination) and a potent triple axel. Each of the top three finishers landed two quads, while Ma, Pulkinen and Yaroslav Paniot nailed one each.

Brown did not attempt one, staying close by virtue of his deservedly robust component scores. They included 23 perfect 10s (out of 45 marks) for a compelling performance of Nina Simone’s pulsating “Sinnerman.” He was, once again, an artist with ice as the canvas.

“There was definitely a confidence and ease that I have worked so hard over the last two years to develop,” Brown said. “I thought that shone through.

“And there’s a sense of grit. I’m determined. I don’t want to let a single point slip.”

Malinin plans four quads in the free skate. Brown eschews quad attempts in the short and will likely attempt just one in the free, but he has yet to land one cleanly in 25 attempts in competition. So a clean skate by Malinin will be nearly impossible for Brown to beat.

And it might lead U.S. Figure Skating’s selection committee to look toward the future – both the sport’s direction and Malinin’s role in it – when it chooses the Olympic team, for which both Chen and Zhou are a lock based on their results over the past year.

“For me, it’s about what you can do in the moment and putting your best foot forward and skating your skate,” said Brown, a 2014 Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion. “I can only win at my own game.”

Malinin’s game is clearly expressed by his social media handle.

“I chose that because I knew if I tried really hard, I could definitely look up to the name and definitely achieve what I wanted to be named as,” Malinin said.

He has tried groundbreaking quad combinations in practice and posted video of successful results: quad toe-quad toe, triple lutz-quad loop, triple lutz-quad toe.

“And I’ve been working on some other stuff that will definitely surprise a lot of people,” Malinin said, declining to give specifics. He was suitably impressed by Yuzuru Hanyu’s attempt at a quad axel at the recent Japanese Championship, even if the result was a downgrade with a two-foot landing.

“I give him a lot of credit to him for trying it,” Malinin said. “It really inspired me to maybe eventually try it.”

Chen, the three-time world champion seeking a sixth straight U.S. title, and Zhou likely will each do five quads in the free skate.

The quad lutz-triple toe became another trailblazing moment for Chen. No man had ever attempted one in the second half of a program, when tired legs make as difficult an element as that even more difficult.

“I have been having a little trouble with the lutz this season, so I was happy I could make it happen today,” Chen said.

Chen wasn’t the first. A Russian woman, Aleksandra Trusova, did it at her national championships two weeks ago in a free skate.

That is what is happening in all singles skating today.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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Mikaela Shiffrin finishes World Cup with one more win, two more records and a revelation


Mikaela Shiffrin finished a season defined by records with two more.

Shiffrin won the World Cup Finals giant slalom on the final day of the campaign, breaking her ties for the most career women’s giant slalom wins and most career podiums across all women’s World Cup races.

Shiffrin earned her record-extending 88th career World Cup victory, prevailing by six hundredths over Thea Louise Stjernesund of Norway combining times from two runs in Andorra on Sunday.

An encore of Shiffrin’s record-breaking 87th World Cup win airs on NBC next Sunday from 12-1 p.m. ET.


She won her 21st career GS, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Vreni Schneider, a Swiss star of the 1980s and ’90s.

She made her 138th career World Cup podium across all events, breaking her tie for the most all-time on the women’s World Cup with Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin earned her 138th podium in her 249th start, meaning she has finished in the top three in 55 percent of her World Cup races dating to her debut at age 15 in 2011.

Earlier this season, Shiffrin passed Vonn and then Ingemar Stenmark, a Swede of the 1970s and ’80s, for the most career Alpine skiing World Cup victories. She won 14 times from November through March, her second-best season after her record 17-win campaign of 2018-19.

In those years in between, Shiffrin endured the most difficult times of her life, was supplanted as the world’s top slalom skier and questioned her skiing like never before.

On Saturday afternoon, Shiffrin was asked what made the difference this fall and winter. There were multiple factors. She detailed one important one.

“I had a lot of problems with my memory,” she said in a press conference. “Not this season, so much, but last season and the season before that. I couldn’t remember courses. And when I was kind of going through this, I couldn’t keep mental energy for the second runs.”

Pre-race course inspection and the ability to retain that knowledge for a minute-long run over an hour later is integral to success in ski racing. Shiffrin is so meticulous and methodical in her training, historically prioritizing it over racing in her junior days, that inspection would seem to fit into her all-world preparation.

She didn’t understand how she lost that ability until she began working with a new sports psychologist last summer.

“That was a little bit like less focus on sports psychology and more focus on, like, psychology psychology and a little bit more grief counseling style,” she said. “Explaining what was actually going on in my brain, like chemical changes in the brain because of trauma. Not just grief, but actually the traumatic experience itself of knowing what happened to my dad, seeing him in the hospital, touching him after he was dead. Those are things that you can’t get out of your head. It had an impact. Clearly, it still does.”

Shiffrin had a “weird a-ha moment” after her first course inspection this season in November in Finland.

“I didn’t take that long to inspect, and I remembered the whole course,” she said. “Oh my gosh, I was like coming out of a cloud that I had been in for over two years.”

What followed was a win, of course, and a season that approached Shiffrin’s unrivaled 2018-19. Fourteen wins in 31 World Cup starts, her busiest season ever, and bagging the season titles in the overall, slalom and GS in runaways.

“After last season, I didn’t feel like I could get to a level with my skiing again where it was actually contending for the slalom globe,” she said. “And GS, I actually had a little bit more hope for, but then at the beginning of the season, I kind of counted myself out.

“I feel like my highest level of skiing has been higher than the previous couple of seasons, maybe higher than my whole career. My average level of skiing has been also higher than previous seasons, and my lowest level of skiing has also been higher.”

There are other reasons for the revival of dominance, though Shiffrin was also the world’s best skier last season (Olympics aside). She went out of her way on Saturday afternoon to credit her head coach of seven years, Mike Day, who left the team during the world championships after he was told he would not be retained for next season.

“He is as much a part of the success this entire season as he’s ever been,” said Shiffrin, who parted with Day to bring aboard Karin Harjo, the first woman to be her head coach as a pro.

Shiffrin’s greatest success this season began around the time she watched a a mid-December chairlift interview between retired Liechtenstein skier Tina Weirather and Italian Sofia Goggia, the world’s top downhiller. Goggia spoke about her disdain for mediocrity.

“Ever since then, pretty much every time I put on my skis, I’m like, ‘OK, don’t be mediocre today,’” Shiffrin said in January.

During the highest highs of this season, Shiffrin felt like she did in 2018-19.

“It is mind-boggling to me to be in a position again where I got to feel that kind of momentum through a season because after that [2018-19] season, I was like, this is never going to happen again, and my best days of my career are really behind me, which it was kind of sad to feel that at this point four years ago,” said Shiffrin, who turned 28 years old last week. “This season, if anything, it just proved that, take 17 wins [from 2018-19] aside or the records or all those things, it’s still possible to feel that kind of momentum.”

After one last victory Sunday, Shiffrin sat in the winner’s chair with another crystal globe and took questions from an interviewer. It was her boyfriend, Norwegian Alpine skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde.

“Excited to come back and do it again next year,” she replied to one question.

“Yeah,” he wittily replied. “You will.”

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Russia ban runs through Olympic gymnastics team qualifying deadline

Russia Gymnastics

Russia’s ban from international sport extended long enough that, as rules stand, its gymnasts cannot qualify to defend Olympic men’s and women’s team titles at the 2024 Paris Games, even if they are reinstated to compete elsewhere before the Games start.

Should the ban be lifted in time, they can still qualify for the Paris Games to compete in individual events.

Gymnasts from Russia, and other European nations not already qualified, need to compete at next month’s European Championships to stay on the path toward Olympic qualification in the men’s and women’s team events.

Earlier this month, the European Gymnastics Federation was asked by what date must bans on Russian athletes be lifted for them to be eligible to compete at the European Championships.

“According to our rules, changes can be made until the draw,” the federation’s head of media wrote in a March 8 email.

The draw for the European Championships was held Tuesday. Russian gymnasts, who are still banned from international competition for the war in Ukraine, were not included in the draw.

The 2024 Olympic team event fields will be filled by the top finishers at this fall’s world championships, plus the medalists from last year’s worlds. Teams can only qualify for worlds via continental championships, such as the European Championships, or the previous year’s world championships.

The International Gymnastics Federation, whose Olympic qualifying rules were published by the IOC last April, was asked if there is any other way that gymnasts from Russia could qualify for the Olympic team events. It responded by forwarding a March 3 press release that stated that Russia and Belarus gymnasts remain banned “until further notice.”

Russia’s gymnastics federation has not responded to a Monday morning request for comment.

Last December, the IOC said it planned to explore a possibility that Russian and Belarusian athletes could enter Asian competitions if and when they are reinstated. There have been no further updates on that front. The Asian Gymnastics Championships are in June.

In Tokyo, Russian women, competing as the Russian Olympic Committee rather than Russia due to the nation’s doping violations, won the team title over the heavily favored U.S. after Simone Biles withdrew after her opening vault with the twisties. It marked the first Olympic women’s team title for Russian gymnasts since the Soviet Union broke up.

At last year’s worlds, the U.S. won the women’s team title in the absence of the banned Russians.

Russian men won the Tokyo Olympic team title by 103 thousandths of a point over Japan, their first gold in the event since the 1996 Atlanta Games.

China won last year’s world men’s team title over Japan and Great Britain.

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