Ilia Malinin, star at U.S. Figure Skating Championships, was not always ‘Quadg0d’

0 Comments

Originally, Ilia Malinin was the Lutzgod. He created that Instagram handle, named after the second-hardest jump in figure skating, at age 13 in 2018.

Later in his early teens, Malinin landed his first quadruple jump, a Salchow. The term Quadg0d popped into his head, and he created a second Instagram. Others learned of it. They asked why he would call himself that when he had only landed one quad, while the world’s best (and much older) skaters could land five.

“That gave me enough motivation to try and land every single quad,” Malinin said in an interview for a “Chasing Gold” episode that airs on NBC on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s free skate.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

The Lutzgod account has been dormant for four and a half years.

The Quadg0d is the poster boy at this week’s nationals in San Jose, California. With none of the six 2022 Olympic singles skaters competing this fall, the 18-year-old from Virginia filled the void by living up to his new handle.

In September, he became the first skater to land a quad Axel in competition, giving him five of the six quads (he has reportedly landed the sixth, a loop, in practice). The Axel is the most difficult, largely because the forward-entry jump requires an extra half-revolution.

NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir equated its significance in the sport to the moon landing.

Malinin hit it again in October, November and December, winning three of his four events in his first full senior international season and ranking second in the world.

He is expected to dominate nationals like Nathan Chen did the last six years. Chen stepped away from competition after winning the Olympics last February. He is studying at Yale and not expected to return for another Olympic run, though he has not ruled it out.

Enter Malinin, who last year made it the closest of Chen’s U.S. titles, though still a distant 25.53 points behind. Nationals were not a direct Olympic Trials. A selection committee chose the three-man team based on a body of work over many months, so Malinin was left off in favor of the much more experienced and accomplished Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.

But everyone knew what was coming.

Chen, known as the quad king who mastered every four-revolution jump except the Axel, said that Malinin was “miles ahead” of where he was at the same age. Zhou, before he was beaten by Malinin, asked if he could get a picture with “the future men’s U.S. champion.” Brown said, “U.S. figure skating is so lucky to have such a bright future with Ilia.”

Malinin made his senior world championships debut in March. He was fourth after the short program, saying it showed he deserved to be on the Olympic team. He put pressure on himself in the free skate with a chance to earn a medal, then fell on a quad Salchow and dropped to ninth place.

Malinin crushed April’s junior worlds, landing all four of his quads in the free skate and shattering Yuna Kim‘s margin of victory record across disciplines.

He went home to Virginia. He spends mornings at George C. Marshall High School, where he was added to the bulleted notable alumni before graduating. He spends afternoons at SkateQuest in Reston, where his parents, retired Olympic figure skaters for Uzbekistan, coach.

His parents say that they didn’t plan for their son to go into the family business, even though he spent plenty of time at the rink. Then came that one day at age 6.

“He asked to go on the ice for fun, and we said, ‘OK, that’s fine,'” said his mom, Tatyana Malinina. “He started like that, and now it’s continued.”

Malinina, sitting next to husband Roman Skorniyakov, said she is the bad cop when it comes to coaching their son. Skorniyakov is the good cop.

“I show him toughness. He needs to be tough,” she said. “Ilia has a very good relationship with Roman. But if he wants to know opinion exactly, then he listens to mother.”

To no shock, Malinin’s non-familial skating inspirations are the two greatest jumpers in history — Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Chen. Malinin followed Chen’s path in taking on Rafael Arutyunyan as a part-time coach and Shae-Lynn Bourne as a choreographer.

Arutyunyan, a gruff Armenian-American who has taught skaters for 46 years, remembered that Malinin was nothing special at first glance. His opinion changed when he saw the kid compete for the first time. He was reminded of Chen.

“Maybe it’s not nice to say, but these guys both are killers,” Arutyunyan said.

Arutyunyan spoke with the same boldness last spring in a conversation with Skorniyakov, predicting that Malinin would become the first man to land a quad Axel. Within two months, U.S. Figure Skating posted video of Malinin hitting the Axel at a camp.

“When I did it the first time, I had no clue I was in the air. I just had to hope for the best,” Malinin said. “Now the muscle memory is starting to kick in, so it’s a lot easier to land. … It feels like every other quad jump.”

So it’s no surprise that Arutyunyan believes Malinin can become the first skater to land a five-revolution jump. Before Skate America in October, Malinin said he hoped to land one in practice by the end of this season.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind right now,” he said last week. “After the season, I’ll think about it.”

The focus right now is becoming the second-youngest U.S. champion in the last half-century, after Chen. And continuing to live up to his Instagram handles.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

0 Comments

One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
Getty
0 Comments

Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!