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.
FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.
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.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!
A day after breaking her tie with Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin won again, moving two victories shy of the overall Alpine skiing World Cup record.
Shiffrin swept a pair of giant slaloms in Kronplatz, Italy, the last two days to give her 84 World Cup wins, taking Wednesday’s race by 82 hundredths of a second over Norwegian Ragnhild Mowinckel combining times from two runs.
“After yesterday, I was just so tired,” Shiffrin, who said she was awake at midnight, 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. after Tuesday’s milestone, told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “I felt nervous because I was tired. When I’m skiing tired, then I make mistakes. … In the first run, I thought I’m either going to go out of the course in the fourth gate, or it’s going to be a really good run. It ended up being a really good run.”
Swede Ingemar Stenmark won 86 times in the 1970s and ’80s.
Paula Moltzan was seventh on Wednesday and Nina O’Brien 10th. It’s the first time three U.S. women made the top 10 of a World Cup race in five years.
Three Americans made the top 10 of a World Cup technical race (giant slalom or slalom) for the first time since Dec. 3, 2005 (Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves, Erik Schlopy). From January 2017 to October 2020, Shiffrin was the only U.S. women to finish in the top 10 of any traditional World Cup slalom or giant slalom.
ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule
What a run @MikaelaShiffrin charged again in @Kronplatz for a back to back victory 🤯#fisalpine pic.twitter.com/JRm70uhNHP
— FIS Alpine (@fisalpine) January 25, 2023
Shiffrin can tie Stenmark as early as Sunday with two slaloms this weekend in Spindleruv Mlyn, Czech Republic, site of Shiffrin’s first World Cup start at age 15 in 2011.
“Technically, it is possible,” she said. “I’m going out for some training tomorrow, and then going to try to get a really good, efficient, recovery day, and then we’ll see if I can put the energy on my slalom skis for two more races.
“It’s busy, and I’m kind of at an unfortunate time of my monthly cycle,” she continued with a smile and a laugh. “So I’m, like, more tired right now. So just normalize talking about that.”
After that, the record pursuit pauses for the world championships in France. World championships races do not count as World Cups.
Shiffrin has 10 wins in 21 starts this season, her most successful campaign since her record 17-victory season in 2018-19.
Her 19 career World Cup giant slalom wins are second in women’s history, one behind retired Swiss Vreni Schneider. Shiffrin’s 51 World Cup slalom wins are the most for any Alpine skier in any discipline.
“Between the second race in Kranjska Gora [two weeks ago] and these two races yesterday and today, it’s the best GS skiing I ever did,” she said, according to the International Ski Federation.
LAYDEN: Shiffrin’s numbers tell us a story we should already know
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in some ways marking a new era in the sport, air live from San Jose, California, on NBC Sports, USA Network and Peacock.
After last February’s Olympics, U.S. figure skating saw its greatest turnover from one season to the next in more than 20 years.
Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou, the top two men last season, are not competing this season and may be done altogether. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell, the top two women, retired. As did the top ice dance couple of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, last year’s national pairs’ champions, also left the sport.
So, for the first time since 1993, the U.S. Championships feature a reigning national champion in just one of the four disciplines.
Amid all that, U.S. skaters performed well in the fall Grand Prix Series and made the podium in all four disciplines at December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. Note the absence of Russian skaters, banned from international events due to the war in Ukraine.
At nationals, skaters are vying for spots on the team — three per discipline — for March’s world championships in Japan.
Ilia Malinin, an 18-year-old from Virginia, is the headliner after becoming the first skater to land a quadruple Axel, doing so at all four of his events this season. He ranks second in the world by best total score, a whopping 38.28 points ahead of the next American (Camden Pulkinen).
Jason Brown is the lone Olympian in the men’s field, competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Games.
Isabeau Levito, 15 and a reigning world junior champion like Malinin, took silver at the Grand Prix Final against the world’s other top skaters. She enters nationals with a best score this season 18.13 points better than the next American, Amber Glenn. Bradie Tennell, a 2018 Olympian coming back from foot and ankle injuries, is also a threat to gain one of the three women’s spots at worlds.
Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the lone defending national champions and will likely make the podium for an 11th consecutive year, which would be one shy of the record.
Bates, who last year at 32 became the oldest U.S. champion in any discipline in decades, has made 12 career senior nationals podiums with Chock and former partner Emily Samuelson. It is believed that a 13th finish in the top three would break the U.S. record for a single discipline he currently shares with Michelle Kwan, Nathaniel Niles and Theresa Weld Blanchard.
In pairs, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier return after missing nationals last year due to Frazier contracting COVID-19 the week of the event. Since, they posted the best U.S. pairs’ finish at an Olympics in 20 years, the first world title for a U.S. pair in 43 years and the first Grand Prix Final medal ever for a U.S. pair.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!
2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Live Broadcast Schedule
*All NBC and USA Network broadcasts also stream on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.