On a press call today, Ilia Malinin said that he is happy, but also nervous, to compete in front of a sold-out audience at Skate America later this week.
“It will be pretty packed. It gets me really excited, but is also kind of nerve-wracking, to see that I’ll be performing in front of a lot of people,” Malinin said. But the 17-year-old looks at it as good practice for major competitions.
Last month, Malinin drew international notice when he landed the first quad Axel in competition at U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Lake Placid, NY.
“After I landed that jump, it made me feel a lot more confident about that quad Axel,” Malinin said of his historic feat. “It lets me realize that I do have the possibility of pulling it out in competition when there’s a lot of nerves and stress and pressure. If I keep putting it in this season, I think over time, it’ll become pretty consistent.”
Malinin acknowledged, however, that the current base value of the quad Axel does not make it a clear-cut advantage to include in his programs. The quad Axel is arguably currently undervalued at 12.5 points, only 1 point higher than the quad Lutz.
“I think if they [the ISU] were to raise the base value [of quad Axel], I think there would be a reason to practice it a lot. As of right now, we’re not really so sure what to do with it,” Malinin admitted. “For now, it’s more [about] practice than about actually trying to put it in the program for [points] value. In future years, when the base value is higher, it’ll be a lot more reasonable to put it in.”
Before Malinin broke the quad Axel barrier in Lake Placid, the skater most closely associated with the jump was two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Hanyu worked on the quad Axel for years and attempted it in his free skate at the Beijing Olympics in February. Malinin spoke of Hanyu’s influence on his own skating.
“I’ve heard [that] in a couple of interviews, he was talking about me, and how he’s grateful that I’m putting a lot of time and effort into trying this quad Axel, and that I landed it. And that he sees me a very strong-willed person,” Malinin said. “I definitely appreciate that compliment, because he’s my inspiration for skating. I would even say he’s the reason I started skating. When I was little, I’d always want to be like him, have the style of him. Hearing that he wants to have his Axel be like mine … It’s amazing. I can’t even take it in.”
Last week, Malinin competed at Japan Open, an invitational event in Saitama, Japan. He again drew notice there by attempting a seven-quad free skate in practice. He ultimately performed five quads in his competition free skate and placed second behind reigning World champion Shoma Uno.
“Japan Open was a really fun experience,” said Malinin. “I wouldn’t consider it necessarily a really big competition. It was more for the experience and for the Japanese audience. I had a fun time with the teams. All the skaters are really getting along well, and we’re friends.”
After Malinin’s seven-quad practice program, Uno complimented his skating and said: “I want to be where he is a year from now.”
Malinin was flattered by Uno’s remarks.
“That makes me very happy–that this guy, who has been skating for a while and has been one of the best–says that I am competition for him, or that I give him a challenge. [To go] from when I was just a little kid watching him, to now competing with him, and for him to call me a challenge, is showing how much I progressed in skating.”
Because his results at Skate America will affect possible qualification for the Grand Prix Final, Malinin said that his jump layout there will be designed to maximize his scores, rather than set any new records.
“For Skate America, it’s really important for me to skate clean and to have a basic layout, in my opinion, and not try to go for anything that’s overexaggerated or too much. To have a layout where I’ll be able to perform it really well and really consistently, so that it can give me the best shot to go to the Final,” Malinin said.
Despite his technical prowess, Malinin said that one of his priorities this season is actually presentation and the second mark.
“It’s a goal of mine to improve my choreography and my components score, because in the past, it’s not been the best,” Malinin commented. “This year, I’m really focusing on the second score. Hopefully, by the end of the season, it will have a huge improvement from last year.”
Malinin said that he’s devoting about a quarter of his practice time to working on presentation.
“We’re trying to put one hour, or one and a half hours, [per day] into skating skills–crossovers, footwork, spins, and anything artistic. Even just skating programs without jumps and spins, to focus on how my choreography looks. I think it will continue to improve over time,” Malinin said. (He said that usually practices about four to five hours per day.)
“It would be very helpful for me to find my own style in skating,” Malinin noted. “As of right now, I’m in the process of finding what works best with putting out the best presentation, or artistry, in my performances. I’m working on that.”
Malinin said that he anticipates visiting California again at some point to work more with choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne. He said that Rafael Arutunyan remains a member of his coaching team, but he doesn’t necessarily anticipate spending a lot of time with Arutunyan in upcoming months.
“Usually we go [to California] when I don’t have school, or if there’s a week’s break from school. Usually I go there, and Raf will help me out a little bit,” Malinin said. “But as of right now, I think we’ll mostly be going out there for choreography [with] Shae-Lynn Bourne.”
Asked about his goals for this season and future seasons, Malinin said that he just wants to continue to get better.
“My main goals are to try to improve in every aspect, even if it’s [just] a little bit. I think it’s a good goal to try to keep pushing myself to be better than I was the season before. Staying consistent and clean is my goal for every season.”
Malinin knows that expectations for him are high this season, after his quad Axel success and with Olympic champion Nathan Chen and World medalist Vincent Zhou sitting out this season.
“It’s sad for me to see that Nathan and Vincent and all these skaters are starting to retire and move away from skating. I was hoping to have a lot more time and compete with them a lot more,” Malinin said. “With them leaving and all the eyes being on me, it’s putting a lot of pressure. I think I’ll be able to overcome it by focusing on myself and doing what I know best. And just be confident on my training and put it out in competition.”