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!

Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
Getty
0 Comments

Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

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

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

1 Comment

Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!