Skating as U.S. Championships favorite for the first time, Ilia Malinin seized the short program, landing two exquisite quadruple jumps and taking a massive lead into Sunday’s free skate.
Malinin, the world’s second-ranked skater, hit a quad Lutz in combination and a quad toe loop in San Jose, California. He did not include his patented jump, the quad Axel, which is not allowed in short programs.
“I still can’t believe I managed to pull that off,” Malinin, who had multiple jumping errors in his four previous short programs this season, said on USA Network. “This whole season, I was always so nervous for the short because I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it’s the risk of learning something new this season with going to other choreographers.”
He tallied 110.36 points and leads by 10.11 over 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown, who is competing for the first time since placing sixth at last February’s Olympics. Brown did not attempt a quad, but what Malinin has in jumps, Brown has in artistry.
FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule
Tomoki Hiwatashi, the 2020 U.S. bronze medalist who missed last year’s nationals due to COVID, is another 14.82 points behind Brown in third.
Camden Pulkinen, fifth at last year’s world championships, fell on his first two jumps and is 11th, 15.96 behind Hiwatashi.
A committee selects the three-man team for March’s world championships after the free skate.
Malinin, 18, is expected to attempt a quad Axel in the free, just as he has at all four of his international events in this his first full senior season.
Malinin was second to Nathan Chen at last year’s nationals but left off the three-man Olympic team in an unsurprising committee decision because of his lack of experience.
Motivated by it, he won the world junior title by largest margin in history in April. In September, he became the first skater to land the quad Axel, the most difficult of the six quad jumps and the only one that had yet to be done. He has thought about trying to become the first skater to land a quintuple jump.
Chen, who won the previous six U.S. titles, hasn’t competed since the Olympics and isn’t expected to return to competition, though he has not ruled it out.
Brown, who two weeks ago in Japan performed in six ice shows in three days, with five numbers in each show, said Friday was confirmation that he can still hang with the best on his new terms in the twilight of his competitive career.
“I’m 28 years old. I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” he said, sitting to Malinin’s right. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk