SAN JOSE — Ilia Malinin arrived at center ice of the first U.S. figure skating championships of the new four-year Olympic cycle Friday afternoon as if delivered by the skating gods.
The son of Olympians, a prodigious jumper with an uncommon sense of showmanship for a youngster of 18, America’s next great skater breathed deeply, waiting for his music to begin, waiting for his national championships to start, waiting for the waiting to end and his time to come.
He couldn’t know this for sure, but deep inside, he was fairly certain that in less than three minutes, when he was finished with his short program, the crowd would be on its feet, thrilled by his quadruple jumps and appreciative of his emerging flair, everyone standing for him, the promise of him, the “quadg0d” of Instagram.
“Has the Ilia Malinin era now arrived, have you signaled the arrival?” he was asked a few minutes later as perspiration beaded on his forehead and his Huck Finn locks framed a face that can only be described as the textbook definition of boyish.
“I think it is here and it will be here for a long time,” the Northern Virginia high school senior said confidently, but with a softness that muted any vestige of arrogance, allowing his words to instead come across as entirely delightful.
Not since the arrival of 15-year-old Michelle Kwan on this very ice surface in San Jose’s SAP Center at the 1996 U.S. nationals has a skater provided such a magical glimpse into the future. For Kwan, now the U.S. ambassador to Belize, this arena launched one of the most storied careers in international sports history: nine national championships, five world titles and two Olympic medals.
Malinin will be a happy soul if he stays healthy and hungry and achieves half that.
He comes along at the perfect moment, a watershed for American skating. Six-time national champion Nathan Chen, the 2022 Olympic gold medalist, has retired, returning to Yale for his junior year. Malinin, who finished second to Chen at the U.S. nationals last year but lost out on an Olympic berth when more veteran skaters were sent to Beijing, is a master of the quadruple jump, the coin of the realm in men’s figure skating.
Earlier this season, the spindly, 5-foot-7 Malinin became the first person in history to land a quadruple axel in competition, a massive 4 1/2-revolution jump that could portend even greater technical accomplishments in Malinin’s future. He said last week that a quintuple, a five-revolution jump, “is definitely in the back of my mind right now. After the season, I think maybe we’ll see one.”
Jason Brown, a two-time Olympian who has watched many skaters come and go in his illustrious career, said he expects to see quints from Malinin.
“I have no doubt,” Brown said. “To watch him and to watch him train, there is room in these jumps. I have no doubt, talking to him, so confident, he knows it, he has that kind of arrogance in a great way, he knows himself and knows, ‘I’m capable.’ ”
Oh my, the next few years are going to be very interesting with this young man.
Malinin knows that figure skating is more than just jumping, which is why he is increasingly focusing on the artistry that is essential if one is to, say, win an Olympic medal in three years at the 2026 Winter Games in Milan.
He loves a stage. “It’s always a lot more fun to perform here (in a competition) than in practice because here there’s a huge crowd of audience to watch and support you through your program,” he said.
He even found a moment in the short program Friday to ham it up for a split-second as he sped by one of the many TV cameras along the ice.
“I find every camera and I just give them a little stare, you know?”
Malinin was born into skating. His mother, Tatiana Malinina, was raised in the Soviet Union and competed at 10 consecutive world figure skating championships for Uzbekistan. She finished eighth at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, where Kwan finished second, and was fourth at the 1999 world championships.
His father, Roman Skorniakov, represented Uzbekistan at the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. He and Malinina moved to the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., before Ilia was born and now are coaches in Reston, Virginia, Malinin’s training site. He took the Russian masculine form of his mother’s last name due to his parents’ concerns that Skorniakov was too difficult to pronounce.
“I’m very grateful because they went through this process and they know exactly everything that can happen, all the goods and bads about figure skating,” Malinin said.
So far it’s a lot of good and very little bad.
“It’s a very big leap from last year,” Malinin said. “I feel like nobody really knew me until after nationals (in 2022). It was almost like this random guy showed up, and then he came out here and he surprised everyone. And I think that now that I’m a big name out there, I really hope that I can keep it like that.”