Ilia Malinin’s Journey To A Figure Skating World Championships Medal

by Lynn Rutherford

Ilia Malinin competes during the men's free skate at the 2023 ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 25, 2023 in Saitama, Japan.


When Fuji TV gifted Ilia Malinin a hat emblazoned with his nickname, “quad god,” in Japanese — and Malinin wore it for media interviews and photos —the 18-year-old’s confidence was palpable.
“I came here to deliver,” the U.S. champion said. “I’ve been working the past couple weeks, just performing and grinding this whole time. I’m just very grateful to be here in front of the Japanese audience.”
And deliver Malinin did, for the most part. On Saturday, the skater from Vienna, Virginia, performed the most difficult men’s free skate ever attempted at the World Figure Skating Championships to win the bronze medal in Saitama, Japan.
Malinin packed six quadruple jumps into his four-minute program set to the “Euphoria” soundtrack, landing three cleanly — including the four-and-a-half revolution quad axel, the first time the jump has ever been landed at an ISU championship event.
Other quads were imperfect, but the skater stayed on his feet, fighting for every point.
“I’m so glad I was able to pull (the medal) off,” Malinin said.
He needed every bit of his technical prowess because the judging panel in Saitama did not embrace his unique brand of gritty artistry. Many of Malinin’s competitors, although lighter on jump content, performed inspired programs that gained far higher program component scores (for composition, presentation and skating skills) than those awarded the U.S. teenager, who placed third in the free — first in technical elements (107.08) but just 11th in PCS (80.98). His PCS were actually lower than they were last season when he placed ninth in his worlds debut.
Shoma Uno of Japan repeated as world champion with 301.14 points. Cha Jun-hwan took silver with 296.03 points, the first time a South Korean man has ever won a world medal, followed by Malinin with 288.44.
The veteran Jason Brown, second to Malinin at the 2023 U.S. Championships, gained the free skate’s highest PCS (95.84) and placed fifth overall with 280.04 points total. At 28 years old, it was his best showing at the world championships since his first appearance in 2015, when he finished fourth. U.S. bronze medalist Andrew Torgashev was 21st in his world championships debut.
In four international events this season, Malinin has had to fight back after mistakes in his short program. But here, a clean short on Thursday likely saved his medal. He nailed the highest-scoring combination of the event — a quadruple lutz, triple toe loop — as well as a quad toe loop and triple axel in a hard-edged performance to “I Put a Spell on You.” His 100.38 points put him second, 4.25 points behind Uno.
“I was really in the moment. I was really feeling my performance out there,” Malinin said after his short, adding, “This is an amazing moment for me, and I have been practicing these last couple of weeks so hard and with so much effort, so I am really glad I was finally able to pull off this short program.”

Ilia Malinin poses during the men's free skate medal ceremony at the 2023 ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 25, 2023 in Saitama, Japan.


Still, Malinin’s gratitude for winning bronze seemed tinged with a bit of regret. At the event’s final press conference, he hinted that we may not see him attempt six quads again.
“You have to take a lot of risks, sometimes you look back and think, there’s no need going for so much risk,” he said. “It’s hard to perform for the audience (doing so many quads). Next season I really want to focus on the performing side.”
Here are six things to know about the sport’s new U.S. star:

Malinin’s Russian-born parents, Tatiana Malinina and Roman Skorniakov, represented Uzbekistan at the Olympic Winter Games and have trained their son in Reston, Virginia, since he was 6. The skating bloodline doesn’t start there, though: Ilia’s grandfather Valery Malinin is also a coach. A former competitor for the Soviet Union, Valery trains skaters in Novosibirsk, a large city in southwestern Siberia, where he put Tatiana on the ice when she was 5 years old.
And like mother, like son.
“At age 9, (Tatiana) did a double axel, which was considered a good result at the time,” Valery said in an interview with Sport24, a Russian news site.
In the same interview, Valery attributed much of his grandson’s success to his daughter, calling her “a very goal-oriented person. … If she wanted it, she would achieve it. If she wanted (Ilia) to become a good athlete, she made every effort.” 

According to his grandfather, as a young child Ilia often preferred playing soccer to training in a cold arena. But his parents, with advice from Valery, made him stick with his skating lessons. Valery told them, “Be patient, he’ll (gain) his triple jumps, (and then) you won’t be able to drag him away.” 
Valery was right, but Ilia still shows off his soccer moves at competitions.
“As a kid, I really enjoyed soccer,” he said. “I incorporated it into my (off-ice) warm-up, because it warms up my whole body, doing some tricks.”

It may seem as if Malinin burst on to the scene in 2022, when he placed second to Nathan Chen at the U.S. Championships, was named an alternate to the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team and won the world junior title with a record score, outpacing the field by 42 points. But there are no overnight success stories in figure skating.
An 11-year-old Malinin landed two strong double axels in his free skate at the 2016 U.S. Championships to win the juvenile boy’s title, telling this reporter at that competition, “I’ve been working to land both of my axels for a long time, probably six months.” 
The next season, the youngster added a few triple jumps to his repertoire and won the intermediate men’s crown.
“As a coach and a mother, I’m double proud of him,” Tatiana Malinin said at the 2017 U.S. Championships. “He only skates in the morning, for two hours. We live in Woodbridge (Virginia) but train at the rink in Reston, about an hour away. We get up at 4:30 in the morning to start practice at 6 a.m. My son is working so hard.”
The family moved to Vienna, Virginia, about 15 minutes away from the Reston rink, but Malinin failed to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Championships. In 2019, he placed third in the novice division and 16th at junior worlds. Recognizing his potential, U.S. Figure Skating invited him to compete at 2020 Skate America, where COVID-19 pandemic concerns limited the field to mostly Americans. There, he landed two quads — toe loop and salchow — and placed fifth.
“After junior worlds last season, all the rinks shut down, so I did three hours a day off ice practicing jumps, spins and choreography, and that helped me a lot,” Malinin said at that Skate America. “When I got back on the ice in summer, it started feeling really comfortable, and I went from there.”

(L-R) Junhwan Cha (South Korea), Shoma Uno (Japan) and Ilia Malinin pose during the men's free skate medal ceremony at the 2023 ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 25, 2023 in Saitama, Japan.


His 81,000 Instagram followers know Malinin by the now famous “quadg0d” handle, which he adopted about two years ago. Before he hit his quads at 2020 Skate America, though, he went by “lutzgod.”
Changing monikers wasn’t just a clever marketing move. Aiming high forced him to live up to his nickname.
“I have to keep my reputation up, because I can’t be ‘quad god’ without any quads,” he told U.S. Figure Skating in 2021. “So I need to learn everything I can right now. It’s kind of like inspiration.”
His Instagram is an interesting follow. Malinin posted practice video of his quad axel weeks before he first landed it in competition last September. He continues to post new elements — including quad-quad combinations, and a quad axel, triple salchow combination — he may try in competition.

Malinin has many fans at George C. Marshall High School, where the soon-to-graduate senior attends some classes in-person, and some online.
“I have to travel places sometimes. I don’t miss a lot but when I do the teachers work with me and are understanding about making up work and extensions,” he told the local Patch publication. “Teachers will stop me and say, ‘I just say you on TV, why didn’t you tell me?’”
Early this month, his school district’s board of supervisors presented a resolution to the figure skater to honor his accomplishments, including landing the quad axel.
“I want to say thank you to the school and the teachers because they’ve been very supportive and (understanding) and tried to help him with any work,” coach and dad Skorniakov said at the ceremony. “He missed lots of school days. So teachers were very supportive.”
Physics is his favorite subject — just like his predecessor as U.S. champion, 2022 Olympic gold medalist Chen. And speaking of Chen …

Rafael Arutunian, Chen’s longtime coach, also works with Malinin and accompanied the skater and his father to Saitama. Shae-Lynn Bourne, who choreographed many of Chen’s most notable programs — including the Elton John free skate that won gold at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 — created Malinin’s short program this season. The two skaters occasionally shared practice ice in Irvine, California, during Malinin’s visits to work with Arutunian.
Both Chen and Malinin landed their first quadruple jumps at age 15. Chen won his first U.S. title at age 17; Malinin was just seven months older when he took the crown in January. At the PyeongChang Games in 2018, Chen became the first skater to land six quads in a free skate, the same number Malinin tried in Saitama.
Finally, like Malinin, in the early part of his senior career, Chen was known more for his quadruple jumps than his artistry. By the time he won in Beijing, his program component scores were among the best in the world. It’s a goal Malinin must also achieve if he hopes to win gold at the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026.

Lynn Rutherford has covered five Olympic Games, including the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing for Based in New York, she is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.