Ilia Malinin heralds new era at figure skating nationals, but Jason Brown still has a place

Ilia Malinin

SAN JOSE, California — Ilia Malinin figures people thought of him as a just another guy a year ago when he made his senior debut at the U.S. Championships with two dazzling performances to finish second.

“I felt like nobody knew me until after nationals,” Malinin said. “It was almost like this random guy showed up and surprised everyone.”

That anonymity was long gone when Malinin took the ice Friday for his short program at the 2023 Nationals. By then, everyone in the skating world was focused on the 18-year-old who uses “quadg0d” as his social media handle in a disarming way, the young man who had made skating history earlier this season by becoming the first to land a quadruple Axel, a jump he plans to attempt again in Sunday’s free skate,

“It’s a big leap from last year,” Malinin said. “There was a huge spotlight on me. Everyone has expectations of me.”

And he exceeded them, leaving the son of two Uzbek Olympic figure skaters to face the question, “Has the Ilia Malinin era now arrived?”

“I think it is here, and it will be here for a long time,” Malinin said.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

In winning the short program with 110.36 points, Malinin found himself in the same rarefied statistical air as 2022 Olympic champion Nathan Chen, who had dominated U.S. figure skating since his first of six consecutive national titles in 2017.

Malinin’s score was the sixth highest in nationals history (since the 6.0 scoring system was replaced in 2006), the first four by Chen (topped by 115.39) and the other by Vincent Zhou, neither of whom is competing this season.

“Now that I’m a big name out there, I hope I can keep it up like that,” Malinin said.

His gravity-defying quadruple jumps, one a quad lutz in combination with a triple toe loop and the other a quadruple toe loop, were briskly tossed off, as was the triple Axel. Then he settled into the program to Garou’s “I Put on Spell on You,” skating it with a commitment to presentation far elevated over his callow performances in the past.

Two of the nine judges went so taken they gave Malinin a maximum 10.0 score for presentation, a tribute to the work he has done with choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne (who also worked with Chen).

Malinin put it all together to skate flawlessly after having struggled significantly in the short program at all four of his previous competitions this season, each rife with errors.

“We took every one and thought about what we needed to work on and improve,” he said. “I’m surprised I was able to pull that off.”

Jason Brown, 28, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras, was suitably impressed as he finished second with an emotionally powerful and brilliantly executed short program. Brown, with no quads, got 100.26 points, 10.11 behind Malinin.

“What he’s doing is incredible,” Brown said of Malinin. “I had a really great opportunity to travel with him in the summer and do shows with him, and it was amazing to see him train, to see him work.

“The way that he effortlessly does these quad jumps … they look more effortless than I feel like my triples are. It’s been magnificent to watch him. Technically it’s brilliance. It’s a privilege to watch him skate, and I just cannot wait to see where he takes the sport and to watch him shine.”

Brown has found it nearly impossible to contend for global medals without a quad, but he stays forever relevant with both the simple beauty and intricacy of his movements. This short program was a perfect example.

Set to a piano piece called “Melancholy” by Alexey Kosenko, he and Rohene Ward choreographed it in 2020, but Brown never used it in a live competition until Friday.

“It’s kind of all about new beginnings,” Brown said.

Brown’s 12th appearance at senior nationals was also his first competition of a season in which he has forged a new direction for his career after placing sixth in his second Olympics last February.

At an age when relentless training would be both physically and mentally impossible for him, Brown has spent nearly as much of his time traveling to perform in shows as he has with his coaching team headed by Tracy Wilson in Toronto. He was in Japan in early January, doing six shows in three days.

“I don’t look at shows in any way as like a break or a time to think, ‘Oh, I’m gonna do these watered-down programs,’’’ he said. “I really pushed myself with Tracy and Rohene, especially to make these very, very difficult, (technically) high-level show programs.

“I was really fortunate to have the opportunity to do so many shows. That just really kept me going and kept me in shape.”

With a big lead going into Sunday’s free skate over the third-place skater, Tomoki Hiwatashi (85.43), Brown has put himself into a solid position to earn one of the three U.S. men’s spots at March’s world championships in Japan and to win a seventh medal at nationals, which he won in 2015.

Even he is uncertain about how that might affect his plans beyond this season. The balance between shows and competitions could be difficult to maintain.

“At this stage, in what you call the Ilia Malinin era. I can’t keep up (with the jumping),” Brown said.

“But I can keep pushing the sport artistically,” he continued. “I’m here to still make a splash, still make an impact, but I’m going to have to do it my own way.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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