Philip Hersh

Ilia Malinin eyed new heights at figure skating worlds, but a jump to gold requires more


At 18 years old, Ilia Malinin already has reached immortality in figure skating for technical achievement, being the first to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition.

The self-styled “Quadg0d” already has shown the chutzpah (or hubris?) to go for the most technically difficult free skate program ever attempted at the world championships, including that quad Axel, the hardest jump anyone has tried.

It helped bring U.S. champion Malinin the world bronze medal Saturday in Saitama, Japan, where he made more history as the first to land the quad Axel at worlds.

But it already had him thinking that the way to reach the tops of both the worlds and Olympus might be to acknowledge his mortal limits.

Yes, if Malinin (288.44 points) had cleanly landed all six quads he did instead of going clean on just three of the six, it would have closed or even overcome the gap between him and repeat champion Shoma Uno of Japan (301.14) and surprise silver medalist Cha Jun-Hwan (296.03), the first South Korean man to win a world medal.

That’s a big if, as no one ever has done six clean quads in a free skate.

And the energy needed for those quads, physical and mental, hurts Malinin’s chances of closing another big gap with the world leaders: the difference in their “artistic” marks, known as component scores.

Malinin’s technical scores led the field in both the short program and free skate. But his component scores were lower than at last year’s worlds, when he finished ninth, and they ranked 10th in the short program and 11th in the free this time. Uno had an 18.44-point overall advantage over Malinin in PCS, Cha a 13.47 advantage.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Chock, Bates, and a long road to gold | Results

As usual in figure skating, some of the PCS difference owes to the idea of paying your dues. After all, at his first world championships, eventual Olympic champion Nathan Chen had PCS scores only slightly better than Malinin’s, and Chen’s numbers improved substantially by the next season.

But credit Malinin for quickly grasping the reality that his current skating has a lot of rough edges on the performance side.

“I’ve noticed that it’s really hard to go for a lot of risks,” he said in answer to a press conference question about what he had learned from this competition. “Sometimes going for the risks you get really good rewards, but I think that maybe sometimes it’s OK to lower the risks and go for a lot cleaner skate. I think it will be beneficial next season to lower the standards a bit.”

So could it be “been-there, done-that” with the quad Axel? (and the talk of quints and quad-quad combinations?)

Saturday’s was his fourth clean quad Axel in seven attempts this season, but it got substantially the lowest grade of execution (0.36) of the four with positive marks. It was his opening jump in the four-minute free, and, after a stopped-in-your tracks landing, his next two quads, flip and Lutz, were both badly flawed.

And there were still some three minutes to go.

Malinin did not directly answer about letting the quad Axel go now that he has definitively proved he can do it. What he did say could be seen as hinting at it.

“With the whole components factor … it’s probably because you know, after doing a lot of these jumps, (which) are difficult jumps, it’s really hard to try to perform for the audience,” he said.

“Even though some people might enjoy jumping, and it’s one of the things I enjoy, but I also like to perform to the audience. So I think next season, I would really want to focus on this performing side.”

Chen had told me essentially the same thing for a 2017 Ice Network story (reposted last year by about his several years of ballet training. He regretted not being able to show that training more because of the program-consuming athletic demands that come with being an elite figure skater.

“When I watch my skating when I was younger, I definitely see all this balletic movement and this artistry come through,” Chen said then. “When I watch my artistry now, it’s like, ‘Yes, it’s still there,’ but at the same time, I’m so focused on the jumps, it takes away from it.”

The artistry can still be developed and displayed, as Chen showed and as prolific and proficient quad jumpers like Uno and the now retired two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan have proved.

For another perspective on how hard it is to combine both, look at the difficulty it posed for the consummate performer, Jason Brown, who had the highest PCS scores while finishing a strong fifth (280.84).

Since Brown dropped his Sisyphean attempts to do a clean quad after 26 tries (20 in a free skate), the last at the 2022 U.S. Championships, he has received the two highest international free skate scores of his career, at the 2022 Olympics and this world meet.

It meant Brown’s coming to terms with his limitations and the fact that in the sport’s current iteration, his lack of quads gives him little chance of winning a global championship medal. What he did instead was give people the chance to see the beauty of his blade work, his striking movement, his expressiveness.

He has, at 28, become an audience favorite more than ever. And the judges Saturday gave Brown six maximum PCS scores (10.0.)

“I’m so happy about today’s performance,” Brown told media in the mixed zone. “I did my best to go out there and skate my skate. And that’s what I did.”

The quadg0d is realizing that he, too, must accept limitations if he wants to achieve his goals. Ilia Malinin can’t simply jump his way onto the highest steps of the most prized podiums.

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

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World figure skating championships the latest chapter of Deanna Stellato-Dudek’s comeback


There are so many improbabilities in the story of how Canadian pair team Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps got to this week’s world figure skating championships that the whole thing reads like a flight of fancy.

You start with a talented junior singles skater from suburban Chicago named Deanna Stellato, whose skates had sat in a closet at her mother’s home for 16 years after injuries pushed her from the sport.

You bring her back to the skating world in 2016 as a married woman of 33 with a different name, Deanna Stellato-Dudek, and in a different event, pairs, making the switch on the recommendation of U.S. Figure Skating high performance director Mitch Moyer.

You have Moyer able to make that suggestion because he coincidentally was visiting a Florida rink the day Stellato-Dudek went there to sound out her old singles coach, Cindy Caprel, about the idea of a comeback.

You end her 12-year career as an aesthetician in a plastic surgery practice and have her go back to the ice, keeping her apart for long stretches from her husband of nine years, Michael Dudek, a Chicago-based turnover management specialist.

You have her begin a pairs’ career in summer 2016 as the partner of a 2014 Olympian, Nathan Bartholomay, with whom she would win bronze medals at the 2018 and 2019 U.S. Championships before the partnership ended when a bum knee made Bartholomay’s competitive future uncertain.

“I was still gung-ho on continuing until 2022,” Stellato-Dudek said.


You hear her talk of having messaged everyone she ever had met in skating to see if they knew of a possible new partner and have one reply, from 2018 Olympic pairs’ bronze medalist Meagan Duhamel and her husband, Bruno Marcotte, a pairs’ coach, tell Stellato-Dudek they had the perfect guy for her.

You have it be a guy she had never heard of, Maxime Deschamps, a French-Canadian from suburban Montreal who had skated with eight previous partners, finished no higher than fifth at the senior level at the Canadian Championships with any of them and thought of ending his competitive career many times.

“Yes, it’s kind of an unusual pairing,” said their coach, Josée Picard.

You have their tryout in June 2019 be the skating version of love at first sight, leading Stellato-Dudek to cancel scheduled sessions with other potential partners.

You have their getting-to-know-you workouts in Montreal stopped cold by the Covid pandemic, forcing them to train outside whenever there was ice for much of a year.

“We made the best of what we could do,” Deschamps said. “It was a really hard time. We questioned ourselves a lot. The goals we were setting up as markers keep us going and able to pass through those hard times.”

You have them begin this season after the first extensive offseason training of their partnership and watch them win a silver medal at Skate America that makes Stellato-Dudek, 39, the oldest medalist in the 25-season history of the Grand Prix Series.

You have them win their second Grand Prix event before Stellato-Dudek comes down with a respiratory virus (RSV, not Covid) that has her coughing, feverish and listless and eventually paralyzes her left vocal cord, inhibiting her swallowing, breathing and speech to the point she needs ongoing work with a speech pathologist to relearn how to talk.

“It was a big setback,” Picard said of the lingering sickness. “It was three months, and we had to adjust a lot of things and diminish the amount of training and do everything very, very carefully.”

You have doctors tell her there is no risk in continuing to train and compete (other than the risks that come with pairs’ skating, in which the woman is flung across the rink and carried some seven feet above a hard and slippery surface), but it isn’t easy training while constantly out of breath and having difficulty swallowing water. That Stellato-Dudek would keep at it impressed her coach.

“Just to come back at 30-some years old and do a totally different discipline in the first place shows that somebody has a lot of ambitions and a lot of goals and a lot of guts,” Picard said. “This just amplifies it, you know, to show that she’s not giving up, and she has all the willpower, and she wants to succeed.”

You have her fight through the Canadian national championships out of her desire to give Deschamps, 31, a shot at his first national title – and have them win.

“I really had a strong will,” Stellato-Dudek said. “I thought to myself, ‘If this was the Olympic Games, I would be skating.’

“Max really stepped up in our partnership during that time. Often, it’s not both partners who are able to give 100 percent. For those three months, I was able to give 80 percent, and Max was making up for that 20 percent and still giving his 100 percent, so he was giving 120.”

You have her healthy as they go to the world championships beginning Wednesday in Saitama, Japan, with a decent chance for Stellato-Dudek, now 39, to win her second world medal, the other a silver from the world junior championships 23 years ago.

And, finally, you have them looking toward the 2026 Olympics where she could, at the age of 42 years and 229 days, be the oldest woman to compete in Olympic figure skating since 1928 and the third oldest in history, according to (That’s assuming Stellato-Dudek gets Canadian citizenship in time for a chance at the team; it is required for her to represent Canada at the Olympics, but not at other international competitions after U.S. Figure Skating granted her a release.)

“I think I’ve lasted a lot longer than anybody thought I could — even now,” Stellato-Dudek said.

How prophetic it seems that her mother, Ann, told me in an interview for a 2000 Chicago Tribune story, “Deanna is a worker, not a child prodigy.”

Among all the unlikely parts of this tale, Stellato-Dudek’s age has attracted the most attention. The subject has become amusing to her, so much so that when Canadian figure skating press officer Karine Bedard tells Stellato-Dudek about an interview request, she will answer lightheartedly, “What do they want to interview me about? Skating while old?”

The truth is Stellato-Dudek has come to embrace such questions after a family member told her, “I think what you are doing is bigger than you.”

Stellato-Dudek began to gain that perspective in reading the hundreds of messages she said she has received from people who say they have been encouraged by her comeback to return to something they also loved.

“They will say, ‘I’ve always wanted to go back, but I’ve been too busy or too afraid to kind of step foot back in the rink, but I know that you started from somewhere so I can start from somewhere, too,’” Stellato-Dudek said. “And I thought maybe what I’m doing has a bigger meaning than even just what I’m doing for myself. It takes myself out of it a little bit and brings it back to something even bigger than just my personal goals.”

A similar desire to keep doing something he loved – and the dream of getting to the Olympics – is what led Deschamps to continue skating when progress was elusive and push came to shove, forcing him to interrupt his studies for a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology after two years because he couldn’t afford both the sport and school.

When asked to give more than 100 percent this season, which is impossible physically, he found the extra contribution by remaining upbeat as his partner struggled to train.

“It was mostly the mental part, (giving extra) to keep it positive because it was way harder (without) the physical capacity for the things,” Deschamps said. “And that’s how we were able to keep going.”

The interruptions caused by the pandemic mean that their four years together have included just two full competitive seasons. That has dramatically reduced the time each has had to learn the nuances of a new partner – and for Stellato-Dudek to master different techniques she has learned in Canada, like her hand placement on throws, in which she used to place both hands on her right shoulder but now has her left arm wrapped around the front of her body and the right arm around the back.

“There was a lot I had to do control-alt-delete and restart for,” she said.

“(Our skating) has just been evolving and evolving,” Deschamps said. “And we’re just trying to push our limits every single time, trying new elements, trying to even improve the sport by doing new stuff.”

One such element is the forward outside death spiral, hardest of the four types of death spirals (with the highest base value.) According to, only 11 pair teams have done it internationally over the 19 seasons of the current judging system, including two Olympic champions: Chinese pairs Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. Only one other team, Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert of Germany, has done it internationally this season.

In the absence of the long-dominant Russian pairs, barred from international competition since their country’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps have the fourth-best score this season of the 23 teams in the world championships field.

From last season to now, their personal bests in the short program, free skate and total have improved by 28 percent, 12 percent, and 16 percent, respectively. They have won medals at four of their five international events this season, finishing fourth at the Grand Prix Final, when Stellato-Dudek began to feel the effects of the virus.

“We always believed that (the success) was a possibility, but this season has surprised both of us,” she said. “When it began, we were getting a lot of positive feedback from everyone who had seen us, but you know, you don’t really believe that until you go to an event, and you get a new high score you’ve never received before.”

The high international scores and medals would send them to the Canadian Championships in the unexpected and potentially discomfiting position of being heavy favorites. They overcame the psychological and physical burdens to win the national title, a crowning achievement for many elite skaters.

“That was a brand-new place for us to be,” Stellato-Dudek said. “We’ve never been chased. We’ve always been chasing.

“We’re gaining a lot of very valuable experience. Because it’s a very new place to be mentally.”

It’s the place she always wanted to be. And there, truth be told, you have the plot of a neverending story that is no longer a fantasy.

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

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Ahead of world championships debut, Andrew Torgashev is building instead of grinding

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The season wasn’t supposed to go this way for Andrew Torgashev.

Torgashev came into it hoping only to remind everyone he was not done competing after two straight seasons lost to a lingering foot injury, to show that a one-time phenom who had won the U.S. junior title eight years ago at age 13 could get back in the mix with the top American men.

“I was planning to get back to training after nationals and come back to competition with more quads next season in hopes to make the world team,” he said.

His coach, Rafael Arutunian, had the same plan.

Both were duly surprised when Torgashev won the free skate at the U.S. Championships, finished third overall behind Ilia Malinin and Jason Brown, and was provisionally named with them to the U.S. team for next week’s world championships in Saitama, Japan.

“I expected he would skate the way he skated,” Arutunian said. “I was thinking he would get top 10 and next season work to make the world team. I didn’t expect some others would skate the way they skated to give him a chance this year.”

“It was surreal,” Torgashev said of making both the podium and the world team.


But he almost didn’t get a ticket to Japan.

Torgashev, 21, had been selected for the world team with a caveat: world championships require all entrants to have earned certain minimum technical scores at an international event during the season, and Torgashev hadn’t competed internationally since 2020.

He would have one chance, at the late February Challenge Cup in the Netherlands, to earn those scores. He nearly lost it in the first 30 seconds of the short program with falls on his first two jumps.

The next jumping pass, a combination, and the final three elements would be the most significant in his career. Make a notable mistake on any, and he would miss the world championships.

“The options were I could just roll over and play dead or fight until the end,” Torgashev said. “So I choose to fight, try to squeeze out as many points as I could out of my spins and step sequence and execute that combination as well as I could.”

Even having done all that, when he finished the program, Torgashev still thought he was out.

He needed an unremarkable 34 technical points. He got a nerve-jangling 35.50. Ninety-nine men, junior and senior, have scored higher than that internationally this season.

“It was a tough situation to be in,” Torgashev said. “I was definitely feeling the pressure of that moment.”

What Torgashev did not say during our lengthy discussion of the Challenge Cup was he had the nail on a badly bruised right big toe removed a week before that moment. Asked about the problem after Arutunian brought it up in an interview with me, the skater said, “I guess I didn’t mention it because I don’t want to seem like I’m making excuses for my performance.”

Or maybe it was that a very painful big toe seemed like a minor nuisance compared to some of the other injuries Torgashev has had. (More on that later.)

“I knew that I was at that competition for solely one purpose, and that was to get the points,” he said. “Even though I would have liked to do it with a bit more elegance, I still managed to accomplish that goal. So it was easy to move on from.”

Truth be told, it is surprising that he has decided to keep moving on in a career that stalled first under the weight of trying to carry the hopes that followed his junior title. Not only had Torgashev won, but he had done it with what remains the highest score ever at the junior national championships.

“It definitely was a lot to deal with at a young age and at a point where a lot of great skaters were also coming up with me,” Torgashev said.

At his first world junior championships, when he finished 10th, the field included Shoma Uno of Japan, Jin Boyang of China and Nathan Chen of the United States. Those three would go on to win an Olympic title and three world titles (Chen), two Olympic medals and a world title (Uno) and two world medals (Jin).

A similar career path is what others expected of Torgashev, and he soon came to have the same expectations. That turned out to not be a good mental space for him.

“I think I was really putting expectations and wants in front of how I was actually going to get to those places,” Torgashev said. “And, of course, that just led to injury and frustration because I was doing things the wrong way.”

After winning the 2015 junior national title, he tried to speed up the process of learning quadruple jumps, which have become the coin of the realm in elite men’s skating. The result: a broken ankle, sustained while trying a quad toe loop, which required surgery to stabilize the tibia with three screws that were removed six months later. He would miss the entire 2015-16 season.

“My mentality always was to just grind as much as I could until I realized that if you grind something too much, it turns into dust,” Torgashev said. “So I needed to build myself instead of just work as hard as I could.”

Torgashev slowly worked his way up through the U.S. ranks, finishing fifth at the 2020 U.S. Championships. After that, he finished an unsatisfactory eighth at the 2020 World Junior Championships and decided to make his second coaching change.

For the first 10 years after he began skating, Torgashev was coached in Florida by his parents, Ilona Melnichenko and Artem Torgashev, both of whom competed for the Soviet Union (his mother in dance and his father in pairs). A disappointing 13th-place finish at the 2018 U.S. Championships led the family to relocate to Colorado Springs so he could work with Christy Krall.

That lasted until October 2020. The poor performance at 2020 Junior Worlds made Torgashev assess his shortcomings, especially technical ones. That prompted his move to California on his own to train with Arutunian, who was then coaching eventual 2022 Olympians Chen and Mariah Bell and is regarded as a master teacher of jump technique.

“Christy Krall is an amazing lady who taught me a lot I still use, but I needed Raf to fix my technique and make me a more consistent skater,” Torgashev said. “I got out all that I could from Colorado and that training environment. I needed to make a change if I wanted to see my skating progress.”

For the next two seasons, a hard-to-diagnose right foot injury forced Torgashev to learn Arutunian’s methods while observing from the stands. He was unable to compete in both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, and his aerobic activity was limited to low resistance pedaling of an exercise bike. Stymied, he wondered at times if he should say, “Enough.”

“I truly almost did,” he said. “I had moved out to California and was living on my own for the first time, and it was just a tough situation to be in, and I was wondering what else life held for me outside of skating.

“But then I quickly came to the realization that I just wasn’t ready to let this go yet. I still have love for the sport, and I felt like I hadn’t maxed out my potential. For all the people that helped me along the way, especially my parents, I couldn’t just let it go without giving it my best shot.”

That became possible last summer, after the Florida doctor who had done the ankle surgery diagnosed the foot injury as a dislocated metatarsal and offered him the choice of another surgery or a rehab program to strengthen the foot and keep the bone in place. He chose rehab. So far, so good.

Before this season, Torgashev was finally able to really work with Arutunian. They speak to each other in Russian, which Torgashev learned from a young age. He also helps the other skaters understand what they hear from Arutunian, who freely admits his command of English is lacking.

It still took Torgashev time to understand the meaning of the coach’s consistent message: that skaters should take more and more responsibility for their own training.

“It’s a huge change to everything I’ve been used to,” he said. “With my parents and with Christy in Colorado, the coaches had such a big role in my training and what I was doing. I felt like I was just following their steps. Whereas here, I’m constructing this plan and using the knowledge that Raf is giving to me.”

The injuries have so far made it impossible for Torgashev to expand his quad repertoire beyond the toe loop (he has unsuccessfully tried one quad Salchow), and the free skate quad toe at 2023 Nationals is one of the few he has landed cleanly. With a full off-season of training, Arutunian hopes Torgashev can do three quads in his free skate next year and four the season after.

As for the upcoming worlds, Torgashev’s first as a senior, neither has any outsized expectations.

“I’m going to observe as much as I can, get all the knowledge I can that’s going to help me in the next three years to get to the ultimate goal, which is the 2026 Winter Games,” Torgashev said.

Arutunian would be pleased if the skater finishes near the top 10. The coach thinks Torgashev can be much higher in the future.

“At some time, there’s no reason to keep skating if you don’t think you can be in the top six in the world,” Arutunian said. “Only the top six make money.”

Torgashev has needed help from his parents and does some coaching to make ends meet in as expensive a place to live as Orange County, California. Making the world team will bring him substantial support from U.S. Figure Skating for the first time. That is a nice side benefit to having his plans turned inside-out.

“I’m looking forward to skate in front of the Japanese fans,” Torgashev said. “I think every skater dreams of being in a place where the skating is so appreciated, with an audience that’s so into the sport.

“After the work that I’ve put in over these past few years, pushing on when things weren’t easy, I’m just going for enjoyment right now.”

Unexpected pleasures often are the best.

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

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