On a remarkable Saturday night, Ilia Malinin, a talented 17-year-old figure skater from the United States, achieved something truly extraordinary. He became the first ever skater to successfully land a quad axel at a Grand Prix event, the pinnacle of competitive figure skating. This groundbreaking moment comes just a month after Malinin awed the world by executing the quad axel at the U.S. Classic in Lake Placid, an international event of a lower caliber.
Malinin’s historic achievement took place during his free skate at Skate America, which was televised by major network NBC. For the first time, a massive audience had the privilege of witnessing Malinin’s quad axel, and the response was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause, sustaining the jubilation for almost fifteen seconds. Even Malinin himself was taken aback by the overwhelming support, admitting that he couldn’t even hear the music playing in the background due to the deafening roar of the crowd. NBC analyst and gold medalist Tara Lipinski was equally astounded. Live on air, she let out an exclamation of delight, exclaiming, “Oh my goodness! That was beautiful, he floated down! The room he had!”
The quad axel holds a special place in figure skating due to its immense difficulty. While it may appear similar to other jumps to the untrained eye, this particular jump is by far the most elusive and challenging. Unlike other jumps where skaters rotate backward, the quad axel involves a forward entry, making it a remarkable four-and-a-half rotations in mid-air. Before Malinin’s recent breakthrough, no man had ever successfully landed a fully rotated quad axel in competition, and no woman has yet attempted it.
Malinin’s journey towards mastering the quad axel has been well-documented on his Instagram account, where he goes by the fitting handle of “quadg0d.” In May, he shared a practice video of a flawless 4A, showcasing his unwavering determination. Then, in July, he posted another video of a quad axel performed during an exhibition practice in Japan. It was evident to those following his progress that this groundbreaking moment was on the horizon.
While Malinin deserves immense credit for his monumental accomplishment, it’s worth mentioning that Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu also made valiant attempts at the quad axel. Hanyu dedicated three years of his competitive career to achieving this feat. Although he announced his retirement from competitive skating in July, Hanyu came close to accomplishing the jump last December at the Japan Nationals. Unfortunately, he experienced a slight misstep during the landing, resulting in a downgrade. Hanyu’s pursuit of the quad axel was so resolute that at the 2022 Winter Olympics, he opted to attempt the jump again during his free skate, jeopardizing his chances of winning another Olympic medal. Alas, he fell during the attempt, but his effort was recognized as the best quad axel attempt in competition.
If you’re still not convinced of the significance of this accomplishment, let’s examine the scores. At the previous Olympics, Hanyu’s quad axel received a score of 5.00, marked as under-rotated. The base value for a quad axel at the beginning of a program is 12.50. Skaters can earn a higher score based on the execution of the element. During the U.S. Classic in September, Malinin received a score of 13.50 for his quad axel, earning him an additional point for his exquisite execution. At Skate America, he outperformed himself, receiving a remarkable score of 16.61, thanks to a 4.11 boost from his execution score.
Now let’s delve into the extraordinary skater behind this groundbreaking achievement, Ilia Malinin, who is coached by his parents, both former competitive skaters representing Uzbekistan. While he placed second in his first-ever senior nationals in January, Malinin was not selected to represent the United States at the Olympics, a matter that deserves its own discussion. However, Malinin’s determination and skill are consistently improving, and he hasn’t even turned 18 yet (his birthday is in December). This year marks his first full season competing at the senior level, and his exceptional performance at Skate America propelled him to become the youngest-ever champion of the event. With an astronomical free skate score, he climbed from fourth place in the short program to claim the top spot on the podium.
As the judges deliberated over his score, Malinin donned a black beanie embroidered with “quadg0d” in white stitching. In a livestream on Instagram back in May, he revealed that he is working on quintuple jumps in addition to the quad axel. After witnessing this extraordinary display of athleticism, it’s difficult not to believe that Malinin possesses the ability to achieve something unprecedented in the world of figure skating.
Image source: Eric Canha / USA Today