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