Ilia Malinin had no intention of trying to land the quadruple axel, the most difficult jump in figure skating, while the 19-year-old American sensation was trying to qualify for the Grand Prix Finals.
Once he took the ice Thursday for the marquee conclusion to the Grand Prix season, all bets were off.
Not only did Malinin cleanly land the four-and-a-half revolution jump, which had never been done in a short program, the first skater to land it in competition last year kept piling up points. He added a quad lutz-triple toe loop combination along with a clean triple axel to post a score of 106.90 points, the best total of his international career.
“After Grand Prix France, it was an idea of mine for a long time — I mean, since the start of the season,” said Malinin, who earned the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Finals last year. “I think that at Skate America, without the triple axel getting those points, it really helped me set the base for my motivation and my confidence to try to include it.”
That jump, which initially wasn't recognized by computerized scoring because it had never been attempted in a short program, proved to be the difference in taking the lead into the free skate. Malinin edged two-time world champion Shoma Uno, who had 106.02 points after landing two quads of his own, and Yuma Kagiyama of Japan, who scored 103.72.
There were once again no Russian skaters at the Grand Prix Final, held at the National Indoor Stadium in Beijing, because of its ongoing war with Ukraine. They have not competed in international competition since after the 2022 Winter Olympics.
As pleased as Malinin was with his short program, set to “Malagueña” by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, the reigning U.S. champion thought there was room to improve. That's despite getting 3.04 points for grade-of-execution on the quad axel, one of the best marks he's scored for the jump, which he had only previously done in his free skate.
“It wasn't one of the best programs that I've done,” said Malinin, who will try to hold off Japan's Uno and Kagiyama when the free skate takes place Saturday. “I'm just really glad that I was able to pull it together under pressure and stay on my feet.”
Kao Miura of Japan was fourth followed by Kevin Aymoz and Adam Siao Him Fa of France.
In the pairs competition, Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nikita Volodin of Germany scored 72.56 points in their short program to take the lead over the Canadian favorites Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps, who scored 71.22 points. Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii, the reigning bronze medalists, were once again third for Italy with 70.30.
Volodin had been ill recently and the pair nearly withdrew from the Grand Prix Final.
More than perhaps any other discipline, the pairs competition is wide open this season. Defending champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan withdrew from the entire Grand Prix season because of his back injury, and American silver medalists Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier took the season off while they contemplated retirement.
Maria Pavlova and Alexei Sviatchenko of Hungary were fourth, Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini of Italy were in fifth and Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud of Canada were in sixth following their short programs.
The pairs competition concludes Friday with the free skate. The women begin their competition with short programs while the ice dance competition begins with the rhythm dance.
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