Ilia Malinin has the quads. Can he add the missing piece?
Ilia Malinin vowed after winning bronze at last March’s world championships to shift focus to the artistic side of figure skating to complement his dazzling jumps.
The D.C. area native followed through with that in the offseason.
He worked with California-based choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne (who previously helped transform Nathan Chen into a total package skater) and has considered moving out there. He also signed up for dance as one of his two classes in his first fall semester at George Mason University.
Malinin, 18, puts his new approach to the test at this week’s Skate America, the first top-level event of the fall.
SKATE AMERICA: Broadcast Schedule
He said last week that it’s unlikely he will try a quadruple Axel at Skate America or his other Grand Prix event in France next month. Last season, Malinin became the first skater to land the quad Axel — the only quad jump that hadn’t been done — and tried it at all eight of his competitions.
Malinin could also make history by attempting a quad loop — to become the first skater to land all six quad jumps. But he is also shelving that — probably until December’s Grand Prix Final, at least — to put energy into artistry.
“Over the next couple of years. I think I’ll be able to show a little bit more of my personality in my skating,” he said. “I’m going to not only have the quad Axel, but also to try to improve on sort of the choreography and the second mark.”
The artistic mark that Malinin referred to is the program components score, which can make up between 40 and 50 percent of a skater’s total points.
At March’s worlds, Malinin had the highest score for technical elements (jumps and spins) and was 11th-best in artistic components. He was the only teenager to finish in the top 13 overall, doing so in his first full senior season.
He said then that attempting the most demanding set of jumps in skating history — six quads in the free skate, including the Axel — made it more difficult to perform a well-rounded program for the audience.
Time will tell if Malinin can follow the trajectory of Chen, who had a smaller hill to climb. Chen was sixth in the artistic score at his first worlds in 2017 (two months before turning 18). Two years later, he trailed only Japanese megastar Yuzuru Hanyu.
Malinin’s father, Roman Skorniakov, is pleased with the early progress.
“He’s getting older and mature,” said Skorniakov, who coaches Malinin along with his wife, fellow 1998 and 2002 Uzbek Olympian Tatyana Malinina. “People noticed much better improvement on that particular side, artistic side of skating. People commented on that pretty often.”
The data includes feedback from U.S. Figure Skating’s annual preseason camp, plus competitions in Canada and Japan. In those two events, he combined for seven more artistic points than in similar events a year ago, though comparing scores with different judging panels isn’t an exact science.
Malinin is a considerable favorite at Skate America, even if he doesn’t show those artistic improvements.
The real tests come later in the season. Next month, he’s slated to face Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan at Grand Prix France.
If he qualifies for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final, Malinin will likely face the gold and silver medalists from March’s worlds — Japan’s Shoma Uno and South Korea’s Cha Jun-Hwan. Uno distanced Malinin by 18.44 points artistically at worlds.
But some things about Malinin do not change. He still prefers his Instagram handle nickname — Quadg0d — and carries the accompanying confidence.
“I think I can sort of push myself in a way to basically defy physics with all the quads I’m doing,” he said.
The way he described a new element — he calls it a raspberry twist — in this season’s free skate to the HBO series Succession soundtrack fits his personality, one that in a skating sense he hopes is becoming more complete.
“Chaotic,” he said, “but also being in a controlled way.”