Ilia Malinin made history late Wednesday when the 17-year-old wunderkind, and the heir apparent to Olympic champion Nathan Chen among American figure skaters, successfully landed the first quad axel in competition.
Malinin pulled off the four-and-a-half revolution jump while winning the lower-level U.S. Classic in Lake Placid, New York, before a small crowd in a mostly empty arena. It nonetheless sent shockwaves through the sport as the final and most difficult of the quadruple jumps had finally been conquered.
“It felt really good. When I’m practicing it, it’s pretty easy for me to figure out how to get the right timing and everything to have it be a good attempt," said Malinin, whose supreme confidence in his jumping ability is evidenced by use of “quadg0d” on his social media platforms. ”To do it in competition is a different story because you have nerves and pressure that can get in the way of that. So I have to treat it like I’m at home and it feels pretty good."
Chen, who for now has stepped away from the sport following his triumph at the Beijing Olympics, has toyed with the jump in practice. And two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu was unsuccessful in trying to land it at the Winter Games.
But there had been brief snippets of video Malinin had put out on social media over the past six months that indicated it was a work in progress. There were some reports from his training camp that he had landed the quad axel in practice.
What makes the axel more difficult than the other quads — the flip, toe flip, lutz, salchow, loops and toe loop — is that skaters face forward when they enter the jump, forcing them to complete an extra half revolution. Even the triple axel is hard enough that most women, and many men, have trouble getting it right.
“I had an idea for trying it for a little while now. March or April was when I really started to work on the technique and try to improve it,” Malinin said. “(Hanyu) definitely inspired me to try it here.”
Malinin put the jump first in his free skate, set to “Euphoria” by Labrinth and choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, when he knew that he would be freshest. The base value of 12.50 is more than any other jump, and the 1.00 that Malinin received in grade-of-execution from the judging panel indicated they considered it clean.
“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do on the ice,” said Adam Rippon, a member of the 2018 Olympic team.
Malinin scored 185.44 points for his free skate and 257.28 points in total to win the competition. Kevin Aymoz of France was second with 236.17 points while Malinin's American teammate, Camden Pulkinen, was third with 219.49 points.
Malinin was born in Virginia to Russian-born Uzbekistani skaters Tatiana Malinina and Roman Skorniakov. He's been considered the next big thing in American figure skating for years. He won Junior Grand Prix events in France and Austria, along with the world championship last year, and was second to Chen at the U.S. championships.
In most Olympic years, that would have made him a lock for the team. But officials with U.S. Figure Skating use a series of factors in making their decision, and they bypassed him in favor of adding Vincent Zhou and Jason Brown.
Chen ultimately won gold in record-setting fashion. He joined Zhou in skating the team competition, where the Americans won a silver medal that could still be elevated to gold pending the results of a Russian doping investigation.
Meanwhile, Malinin continued to work away from the spotlight on a jump that some thought impossible.
“Ilia Malinin landed the first quadruple axel in history tonight at an event in Lake Placid, NY, home of so many great American sporting moments," two-time U.S. Olympian Johnny Weir, now a figure skating analyst for NBC Sports, tweeted afterward. “ 4.5 revolutions in the blink of an eye. Bravo!”
The U.S. Classic is an early season event that doesn't get the attention of the Grand Prix events, which begin with Skate America on Oct. 21 in Boston. Malinin is scheduled to make his senior debut there in a field that includes Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, a two-time runner-up at the world championships.
Malinin's other Grand Prix assignment this season is Nov. 25 in Espoo, Finland.