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Ilia Malinin takes figure skating to new heights with world championships skate for the ages

MONTREAL — Let the skating apotheosis of Ilia Malinin begin.

And why not? In four minutes Saturday night, the 19-year-old Virginian took his sport to athletic heights it had never seen before and took himself from third after the short program to the top of the awards podium at the world championships.

His free skate got the highest score in history. He landed an unprecedented six clean quadruple jumps, including his trademark quad Axel and two quads that opened combinations well into the second half of his program.

The crowd stood and roared when he landed his final jumping pass with about 20 seconds to go. The noise got louder and louder until it ended.


“It was amazing to hear the crowd go wild,” Malinin said.

When he finished, Malinin grabbed his head in his hands, as overwhelmed by what he had done as everyone who saw it at the Bell Centre was. He then collapsed in joy onto his back.

“I couldn’t even hold myself up, it was that emotional to me,” he said. “I’m still in shock. I still can’t believe I did this. It’s just incredible.”

After the short program Thursday, Malinin said he had been filled with doubt because of a left foot injury. He said he had considered staying home.

“There was a little voice in my head saying, ‘You have to keep fighting, you have to keep going no matter how good or bad you feel,’’’ Malinin said. “You just had to know what you are capable of and stick to your muscle memory.”

For the record, this is what Malinin was capable of: quad Axel, quad Lutz, quad loop, quad Salchow, quad lutz-half loop-triple Salchow, quad toe loop-triple toe loop, triple lutz-triple Axel sequence. That plus excellent component marks (averaging 9.07) added up to a free skate score of 227.79, topping the record of 224.92 Nathan Chen had set in 2019.

Malinin’s overall score, 333.76, is second in history only to Chen’s 335.30.

Trailing by a couple points after the short program, when he was third to Japan’s Shoma Uno and Yuma Kagiyama, Malinin won in a runaway. Kagiyama was second at 309.65, and Adam Siao Him Fa of France made the stunning leap from 19th after the short program to get bronze at 284.39.

Jason Brown of the U.S. was fifth, one spot shy of his best placement at worlds. Uno, who had won the last two world titles and the short program here, faltered badly and dropped to fourth.

“After the short program, it really got to me that now’s the chance, you’re not out of this completely,” Malinin said.

He had felt a bit out of sorts in the short program and did not try the quad Axel (which he has only ever attempted in a short program once). He was not convinced about trying it in the free until taking his starting position.

“When I hit the quad Axel, I definitely felt confidence,” Malinin said. “After the first four jumping passes (all with quads), I really felt like this can be it.”

Malinin’s gold, which came a few hours after Madison Chock and Evan Bates won the ice dance, capped a world meet in which U.S. skaters won two of the four events for the first time since Michelle Kwan and Todd Eldredge won singles titles in 1996.

Kagiyama, 20, the Olympic silver medalist, admitted he did not know how he could beat a Malinin who skates as he did Saturday.

“If we both perform at 100% of our ability, I don’t think that I will be able to win,” Kagiyama said.

Nearly three hours before the presumed medal contenders did their free skates, Siao Him Fa, who had figured to be one of them, put out a dazzling performance that took him from 19th after the short to the bronze medal. He also gave a raspberry to the sport’s officials.

Siao Him Fa, reigning European champion, botched all three jumping passes in the short, then came back with a free skate with four clean quads and no mistakes.

He ended it with a backflip, a crowd-pleasing move the International Skating Union has banned. Siao Him Fa, 23, has been outspoken in pushing for the ISU to allow the jump in an effort to increase the sport’s appeal to his generation. He also performed it in winning January’s European Championships.

He did it at the cost of a two-point deduction, but his free skate score, 206.90, still ranked second among the 24 competitors.

“It’s for fun, it’s for the audience,” Siao Him Fa said. “I had nothing to lose so I said to myself, ‘Go for it.’’’

Since grabbing attention in the fall of 2022 by becoming the first person to land a quad Axel in competition, Malinin has been seen as the future of men’s figure skating. He won a bronze medal at last year’s world meet, gold at this season’s Grand Prix Final and two straight U.S. titles.

Where can Malinin go from here when he already has been near the limits of his sport? Quintuple jumps? Quad-quad combinations?

“I will leave it a surprise, as always” Malinin said, with an impish grin.

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

Madison Chock and Evan Bates repeated as world champions and went undefeated this season.