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SAN JOSE — Halfway through his short program Friday afternoon, Ilia Malinin knew he had already won his first day at the US Figure Skating Championships. His jumps were clean, her turns tight, and her landings soft. Sometimes it felt like he was floating over the ice in the SAP Center.
And that’s when he decided to have some fun.
He smiled; he began to survey the crowd in the half-filled arena; he threw his shoulders out and kicked his leg up. And as he drove past a TV camera set up next to the ice, he turned his head back and looked into the lens for a long time.
“I find every camera and just look at them a little bit, you know?” he said afterward.
Even before his 110.36 lead score was announced, fans in the arena knew they were about to see something special on the opening day of the men’s competition. They stood almost as one and roared for the 18-year-old Viennese, who dubbed his Instagram account “Quadg0d” and was quick to announce himself as America’s next big male skater.
A year ago, Malinin arrived at the US Championships in Nashville, unknown to all but the most dedicated skating fans, and then shone with a surprise silver medal finish that kickstarted a season in which he won three of the five events attended he competed and became the only one to complete landskating’s toughest jump, the quadruple axel, which he has now hit three times.
Now Malinin – who didn’t attempt a quad-axel on Friday (it’s not allowed in the short program) but will likely have one in his freestyle Sunday – is in excellent position to win his first national championship by a solid margin on two. Times Olympic champion Jason Brown and Tomoki Hiwatashi.
Ilia Malinin, quadg0d of figure skating, is ready for his next big jump
If Malinin was unaware of his place at the forefront of American skating, he realized it when a big hoot followed the introduction of his name ahead of Friday’s skating.
“That was a really big difference,” he said. “I thought it would be the same as last year. … ‘Oh who is that, he came back for another year.’ ”
Despite the seeming ease with which Malinin skated Friday and landed the two quads he attempted – a lutz and a toe loop – he went into the afternoon nervous about the performance. He’s struggled in his short programs this year and made up the difference with amazing free skates.
After hitting his jumps, loaded in the first part of the performance, he relaxed.
“I was really happy and just let it all out,” he said. “I just didn’t care what would happen after that, so I just enjoyed it and really focused on the performance and messing around with the audience [to] have their reactions to everything.
“And it was a lot of fun.”