Malinin makes history with quad axel at International Classic

Ilia Malinin competes at the 2022 TOYOTA U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (Provided photo — Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating)

In a venue known for historical moments, history was made on the second day of the 2022 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. U.S. skater Ilia Malinin landed the first quad axel in competition en route to the gold medal on Sept. 14.

He contributed to Team USA’s six-medal haul at the event, which took place from Sept. 13 to 16 and was the first stop on the International Skating Union’s 2022 Challenger series. The 2022 Novice and Junior Challenge Skate coincided with the event, bringing some of the world’s best novice and junior level skaters to Lake Placid to compete alongside the elite Senior skaters.

There must be something about the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, or perhaps the skaters that find themselves here. In 2019, it was the site of another historical event, when 14-year-old Alysa Liu became the first American woman to land a quad jump in ISU competition, at her first Junior Grand Prix event. Just as that event was Liu’s moment to shine, this was Malinin’s, and after a rocky short program, he delivered in the free skate.

The quad axel, a jump that requires the athlete to launch themselves forward into the air, rotate four and a half times and land backward on one foot — is considered the most difficult jump in the world. Until now, it was the last quad jump to be conquered in competition.

“It felt really good. When I’m practicing it, it’s pretty easy for me to figure out how to get the right timing and everything to have it be a good attempt,” Malinin said. “To do it in competition is a different story because you have nerves and pressure that can get in the way of that. So I have to treat it like I’m at home and it feels pretty good.”

Malinin, known as the “quad god” on social media and to his fans, has been practicing the element since the end of last season. Other elite skaters, including 2022 Olympic champion Nathan Chen and two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, have also worked on the jump. Hanyu tried — and failed — to land it in the 2022 Olympic Games.

“I had an idea for trying it for a little while now. March or April was when I really started to work on the technique and try to improve it,” Malinin said. “(Hanyu) definitely inspired me to try it here.”

The quad axel was the first jump out of the gate, worth a base value of 12.50, and was considered cleanly landed. He followed it up with a quad Salchow, quad toe loop, and quad Lutz in combination with a triple Salchow. He scored 257.28 overall, approximately 20 points over the second-place competitor, France’s Kevin Aymoz (236.17). Team USA’s Camden Pulkinen earned bronze (142.05).

The remaining American skaters, Jimmy Ma and Eric Sjoberg placed fifth and eighth overall, respectively.

Team USA pairs skaters Emily Chan and Spencer Howe, and Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernandez brought home silver and bronze, respectively. Italy’s Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won gold (189.22).

Chan and Howe, the 2022 Four Continents silver medalists, put out a good overall free skate. Their Unchained Melody program included a Level Four lift — the highest level possible for lifts — and scored 181.81 overall.

Skating to soaring music from the movie “Avengers: Endgame,” Plazas and Fernandez’s program scored personal bests in the long program and overall (166.25), and the bronze medal.

Team USA ice dancers Eva Pate and Logan Bye, Lorraine McNamara and Anton Spiridonov, and Katarina Wolfkostin and Jeffrey Chen must have experienced deja-vu; they were all in Lake Placid in July for the 2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance International, where they each earned a spot on the podium.

At this event, Pate and Bye earned second overall with their exciting Riverdance free dance, scoring 179.63.

The 2022 Lake Placid Ice Dance International Champions McNamara and Spiridonov glided away with bronze. They performed a well-skated modern free dance to score 179.03 overall, finishing only half a point shy of their teammates. Wolfkostin and Chen placed sixth.

The winners of the women’s event represented South Korea and Japan, with Yelim Kim (190.64) and Young You (183.40) claiming first and second, respectively, and Mana Kawabe of Japan finishing third (180.11).

Audrey Shin, Sonja Hilmer, and Jill Heiner all finished in the top 10. Shin finished just off the podium in fourth place, with Hilmer right behind her in fifth. Heiner finished seventh in her first International assignment.

One skater in the women’s event had a strong tie to Lake Placid. Marilena Kitromilis, who represented Cyprus, has trained and competed in Lake Placid several times before.

Notably, she last performed in the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena as a soloist in the Dream On Show on Feb. 18, 2020 — the last major figure skating event Lake Placid hosted before the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite her knee injury, Kitromilis put out two good performances and placed in the top 10 overall. She felt comfortable at the venue and was excited to represent her country in such a special place.

“Lake Placid always feels like a second home to me, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to compete here on an international level. It was very exciting to feel the rink’s atmosphere from all the times I’ve been there practicing to now competing here,” Kitromilis said. “I look forward to my next competition in Lake Placid, especially when the construction is completed. I miss skating in the 1932 Arena.”

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