As Skate America Kicks Off A New Grand Prix Season, Get Ready For Ilia Malinin 2.0
by Lynn Rutherford
Get ready for Ilia Malinin, 2.0.
This week at Skate America in Allen, Texas, about 26 miles north of Dallas, marks the 2023-24 Grand Prix debut of a more mature, complete skater than the brash “Quadgod” who took the skating world by storm last season.
The 18-year-old, who hails from Northern Virginia, says he’s bringing a more refined style and sophisticated choreography to Allen, along with many — but not all — of his quadruple jumps.
“I don’t think I will be doing quad axel at Skate America or the other Grand Prix I am doing [in France], because I want to play it safe and make sure I have a solid base for the program without any mistakes, so that way I can qualify for the [Grand Prix] Final,” Malinin told reporters on a pre-event teleconference.
“At the final, I might add the quad axel and the quad loop. That’s my idea on this,” he added.
In Allen, where he will shoot for his second consecutive Skate America crown in a competition that runs Friday to Sunday, the U.S. men’s champion wants to prove to judges that he’s more than a technical phenom — he can also tackle different musical genres, execute challenging step sequences and spins, and do it all with style and skill.
At the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships in March, judges told Malinin his quads were not enough to win a world or Olympic title. In the free skate, his technical element score (TES) ranked first, while his program component score (PCS) was just 11th best. He settled for the bronze medal overall.
“I think over the next couple of years, I’ll be able to show more and more of my personality in my skating,” Malinin said on the teleconference. “Before, I was afraid in a way, because of those big elements I have to do — I have to put a lot of energy into those. But now that [the jumps] have become easier, I’ve been able to put more time and effort into those small, tiny details, especially choreography or even extending one toe. [That] can make a big difference in terms of how it looks, and also in terms of the score.”
Fans had a preview of the “new” Malinin in Montreal last month, where he won an ISU Challenger Series event by some 44 points. He didn’t try a quad axel but hit five other quadruple jumps while showing control and focus in his short program, set to flamenco music, and his free skate, choreographed to the “Succession” soundtrack. Both programs were created by Shae-Lynn Bourne during Malinin’s trips to California this summer.
“I think over the summer we put a lot more time and effort into spins, a lot more into choreography, and even the jumps, to get them more solid so they have a better landing and better flow out,” Malinin said in Montreal. “[We wanted] to take what I have through the basics and to sort of up it and give it that extra final detail and final finish.”
Malinin, who graduated from George C. Marshall High School in June, also credits his improved artistry to a modern and contemporary dance class he’s taking as a freshman at George Mason University.
“[Dance class] helps with those basics for the artistry, for example, getting more flexibility, getting more coordination, so the lines and the angles you make with your arms and legs look a lot cleaner, a lot nicer,” he said.
The skater isn’t giving up his self-anointed nickname, though. The “Quadgod” cap of last season may be [temporarily] retired, but as he answered reporters’ questions on the video teleconference, a homemade “Quadgod Get it Done” poster hung on the wall directly behind him.
Not only does Malinin plan to add the quad loop to his repertoire — making him the only skater to ever perfect six different four-revolution jumps — but he wants to eventually do quad axel in both his short program and free skate.
“I think I can push myself in a way to basically defy physics,” he said. “I have a couple of new combinations, new jumps I want to think of. Right now, at the beginning of the season I don’t want to focus my time and energy on these new tricks, but maybe toward the end of the season or after the season is done, I will try those unique jumps, or maybe just a lot more rotations.”
U.S. bronze medalist Andrew Torgashev and Maxim Naumov, fourth in the U.S. last season, also compete for Team USA this week at Skate America.
Last season, four-time U.S. ice dance champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates capped 10 consecutive appearances at the world championships with their first world title. And on their teleconference last week, the three-time Olympic competitors told reporters they’re not done yet.
“After evaluating things when we got home from touring, we were really still very much inspired to keep creating, keep exploring the potential we still feel we have,” Chock, 31, said.
“We felt like we still have more to give and more we want to learn, so we decided to continue competing,” she added. “We really love what we do, we love skating, we love the process, we love the work that goes into creating special pieces we are passionate about. That is really the driving force behind our decision to continue.”
Like last season, the couple is opening their campaign at Skate America, with no warm-up competition to test their programs: A 1980s themed rhythm dance to music from Queen and a free dance to Pink Floyd.
“[The rhythm dance] is a very fun, upbeat and, I don’t know, just groovy program that we are super into,” Chock said. “The theme of the free dance is time. We feel as our time passes as athletes, and in general as we have matured as adults and gone through life, we realize how precious time is and how fleeting it can be, especially in sport. You really have to cherish the moments you have, and that’s what our program is about.”
Last season, the couple did not reach their peak until their later competitions, as they continually revised and strengthened their programs. After a busy offseason packed with show commitments, it’s possible the cycle will be repeated during 2023-24.
“When they got back [from touring], they were very excited to start fresh, new programs,” the couple’s coach and choreographer, Marie-France Dubreuil, said. “So of course, for Skate America, it’s a short [time] for preparation for the new season, but their goal is really to win worlds again. They know their programs might not be 100 percent [at the beginning], but they will keep evolving throughout the season.”
U.S. silver medalists Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, sixth in the world last season, will vie for a medal. Siblings Oona Brown and Gage Brown, who won the 2022 junior world title, are also on hand in Allen.
Isabeau Levito made a mark last season, her first on the senior international circuit. She not only won the U.S. title but gained two Grand Prix silver medals as well as a silver medal at the Grand Prix Final, before placing fourth at the world championships. For her exploits, she was named “Best Newcomer” at the 2023 ISU Awards.
The 16-year-old from Mount Holly, New Jersey, started the season strong, with a win at Germany’s Nebelhorn Trophy last month, landing clean triple lutz-triple toe combinations in both her short program and free skate. This week, she hopes to improve on the silver medal she earned at Skate America last season.
Competing in Allen will be a homecoming of sorts for U.S. bronze medalist Amber Glenn, who hails from Plano, Texas.
“I’ll have family members who have not seen me compete in person in probably like 10 to 12 years,” Glenn, who will turn 24 on Oct. 28, said. “I feel like I’ll go in and have a certain amount of pride and passion, knowing this is my home, this is where I grew up.”
Glenn added that her training — briefly derailed by an orbital bone fracture and concussion suffered due to an on-ice collision with another skater last month — was back on track.
“I feel more consistent than ever,” she said. “I feel like I have a good structure and routine going on.”
Glenn, who trains at 6,000-foot altitude in Colorado Springs, Colorado, regularly lands triple axel in practice, but the jump has proven elusive in competition. She plans to try it in her free skate at Skate America.
“It’s been — I don’t want to say easy, because that would be like jinxing myself, but it feels like just another one of my triples now,” she said. “It’s been 100 percent. If I had my way, I would do it in my short as well [as my free], but my coaches said, ‘It’s early in the season, let’s wait.’”
Clare Seo, a 16-year-old originally from California who placed seventh in the U.S. last season, makes her senior Grand Prix debut in Allen.
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, the two-time U.S. pairs champions who won the 2022 world title as well as two recent Skate America crowns, have not officially retired, but they are not competing on the Grand Prix circuit this season.
Knierim has moved to the Chicago area, where her husband, Chris Knierim, is the skating director at Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, Illinois. Frazier remains in Irvine, California, where he assists Jenni Meno Sand and Todd Sand in coaching pairs.
“I feel very lucky to be part of Jenni and Todd’s team,” Frazier, who is also pursuing a degree at University of California - Irvine, said. “The schedule works out well, that I can be there and work with all of their teams. Being fresh off the competitive scene, I feel very motivated to help pay it back any way I can. … For me, I am getting to know my athletes, what works for them and what they need before they compete, and I adjust for them. I never just do anything the way I would do it.”
Chelsea Liu and Balazs Nagy, who train in the Irvine camp, make their Grand Prix debut in Allen. The skaters, who teamed up in April, placed fourth in their international debut at the Challenger event in Montreal last month, where they impressed judges with a huge triple twist as well as creative lifts.
“Twists and lifts were definitely elements that came together really well right off the bat, and that was exciting,” Liu said. “It’s nice when you have a couple of really solid elements that come together naturally and everything else that is a little more challenging, you know that if you put in the time and work, they will work themselves out.”
In Knierim and Frazier’s absence, Team USA’s top-ranked pairs skaters this season are U.S. silver medalists Emily Chan and Spencer Howe, who placed fifth in the world last season. Howe underwent shoulder surgery in May, and the pair is scheduled to begin their season at the China Grand Prix Nov. 10-12.
“It was a situation where, if the shoulder was not repaired now, it could lead to some issues that maybe were not so reversible,” Howe said of the timing of his surgery. “In the back of my mind, I was like, ‘Man, if we don’t get [surgery] now, what happens if we’re in the Olympic season, in moments where it counts even more?’ So that’s why I decided, let’s take care of this.”
Along with Liu and Nagy, Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernandez, fifth in the U.S. last season, and 2022 U.S. junior silver medalists Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard, will compete at Skate America.