Ilia Malinin eyes US figure skating title defense, world championships and much more

FILE - Ilia Malinin, of the United States, competes in the men's short program during the Grand Prix Skate America Series in Allen, Texas, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. Ilia Malinin and Isabeau Levito will try to defend their U.S. figure skating titles this weekend in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman, File)

Ilia Malinin has never been shy about setting some ambitious goals.

That was clear when the reigning U.S. figure skating champion aimed to become the first to land the quad axel, a 4 1/2-rotation jump that requires such speed and amplitude that some critics considered it humanly impossible.

Not only was Malinin the first to do it, the 19-year-old phenom is still the only one to do it.

So it wasn’t altogether surprising this past week when Malinin, who will try to defend his U.S. title this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, talked about some of his new goals. He would like to become the first to land all six quadruple jumps in the same program, and even mused about someday trying a quint, which would add an entire fifth rotation to the quads he makes look so easy.

Coming from most people, that’s the kind of stuff that would elicit some head shakes.

From Malinin, it’s the kind of stuff that raises some eyebrows.

“There’s still that idea that I want to try to maximize the amount of physical capabilities I have in terms of skating and technique and other things,” Malinin said. “This year it was the artistry and cleanliness in my program that I wanted to focus on. The jumps are becoming a lot easier, so I’m able to focus on that skating. But that doesn’t mean I’m not trying to push the sport.

“I always have new ideas for tricks or jump combos or different cool things,” he added with a smile.

Malinin probably won’t need any special tricks this weekend. Fresh off his triumph at Grand Prix Final, he is the overwhelming favorite to win his second national title, and continue to build his momentum toward the world championships in March.

He finished third there last year. He fully intends to move up two steps this season.

“Nationals is going to give me a really good base for what’s some things I can work on,” Malinin said, “and what are some things I can improve on in terms of where they were at the beginning of the season and where they are now.”

His biggest competition beginning with his short program Friday night figures to be Jason Brown, the veteran fan favorite who skipped most of the season to preserve his body for this week, along with Camden Pulkinen and Andrew Torgashev.

In the women’s event, which begins Thursday night at Nationwide Arena, Isabeau Levito will try to defend her title following an uneven season on the Grand Prix circuit. She won the Grand Prix de France and was second at Skate America, but she struggled so mightily during her short program at the Grand Prix Final that not even a spectacular free skate could salvage a medal.

Only three others in the world topped Levito’s score of 208.15 at Skate America, though, and none of her American rivals even came close. So if she skates her best, the 16-year-old with an eye on the 2026 Winter Olympics remains the favorite.

“I just hope to give a beautiful performance that not only can be deserving of a gold medal but also just beautiful to watch, and entertaining,” Levito said. “I hope that’s what the fans can expect from me.”

Amber Glenn is expected to provide Levito’s stiffest challenge if she is able to put everything together, particularly the triple axel that she does so well. Lindsay Thorngren also could be in the medal mix after her surprising silver medal at the NHK Trophy.

The pairs event is wide open after defending champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier stepped away for the season. The new partnership of Chelsea Liu and Balazs Nagy finished in third at Skate America, giving the U.S. its only Grand Prix medal in the discipline, while Emily Chan and Spencer Howe are back to improve on their silver medal after missing much of the season.

In ice dance, Madison Chock and Evan Bates will go for their third straight title and fifth overall. The reigning world champs are the clear favorites after winning both of their Grand Prix assignments and Grand Prix Final in December.

Their biggest rivals, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, stepped away this season because of injuries and are evaluating their future. That leaves Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko and the duo of Caroline Green and Michael Parsons as the most likely contenders for the two podium spots alongside Chock and Bates this weekend.


AP sports: https://apnews.com/sports