2023 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships
In a nail-biting finish, Ilia Malinin won his first U.S. National title on Saturday in San Jose, Calif. Jason Brown maintained second to claim the medal, while Andrew Torgashev rose from fifth to snatch the bronze.
Malinin begin his campaign for the title with a commanding short program on Friday, earning 110.36 points thanks to a clean quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, quadruple toe loop, triple Axel and level-four spins and footwork sequence. Such a skate has eluded him all season so, the result was particularly satisfying.
“This season, all the short programs, they were really tough” Malinin said with relief after the short program. “And, I think that we all took every single one of them and sort of thought about what we needed to work on and what to do. We really focused on those points, and I think that it really helped out with today’s performance. I’m surprised how I managed to pull that off.”
Gunning for six quadruple jumps in his free skate set to “Euphoria” by Labrinth, Malinin opened the routine with a fall on his already-signature quadruple Axel. While he recovered to land three more quadruples – the flip, Lutz and Salchow – he went on to double a planned quadruple Lutz and quadruple toe. To remain competitive, in his final jumping pass the 2022 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist landed an impressive triple Lutz-triple Axel-triple toe sequence. With three level-four spins, the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist earned 177.38 points for a total competition score of 287.74.
“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” Malinin said after the free skate. “I was really looking forward to having a good skate and just try to show what I’ve been working on these past couple of years. I was even just to try to push myself, but there’s always ups and downs and you just have to get over it and move on for the next thing. I’m always looking back at this competition; I’m going to see what I need to work on a bit more so I can prepare a lot better for worlds.”
The 18-year-old confessed that we wasn’t feeling as motivated or had the energy he needed for the free skate.
“I think I was a little bit sluggish back there,” Malinin said of the errors. “I just wasn’t very prepared for what was about to happen.”
The skater outlined his key goals to help put the free skate into perspective.
“I was really happy that I was able to put out this short program, especially with the past short programs that weren’t the best. I think that for me, a really big goal here is to, one, get this title and two, to have a really successful short program. There’s always work to do.”
Brown mesmerized the Californian audience with his intricate and dramatic free skate to Josh Groban’s “The Impossible Dream.” Two triple Axels, one in combination with a double toe, as well as five more triples, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, highlighted the program. Brown’s only error was a step out and tumble on the final triple flip, evoking audible gasps from the audience, willing him along. Two level-four spins and a level-four step sequence resulted in a score of 177.06 in the free skate for a total competition score of 277.31.
“I love performing,” Brown said. “I love competing. And, I hope it showed today.”
Brown said he was facing “demons” by returning to San Jose, where, in 2018, he succumbed to pressure at the U.S. Nationals, placing sixth and missing the Peongchang Olympics.
“I have the courage to go back into that range and to perform again and to kind of rewrite my story, and so that’s what I’m most proud of,” he said.
In his return to the national championships, Torgashev impressed with his powerful free skate to “Carmina Burana.” Opening with a lithe quadruple toe, the 21-year-old followed up with eight triples, including a triple flip-triple toe combination in the second half of the program. Two level-four spins also helped to catapult him up the rankings to snag the bronze medal. He received 177.78 points for the effort, winning the free skate and earning a total of 256.56 points overall.
“It’s so crazy,” Torgashev reflected. “It’s a little unbelievable. It’s weird, because I do this every day. It’s gotten better over the last eight weeks. You know, we’ve been just training so hard. I really tried to dedicate all of myself to coming into the race, doing my best and improving one percent each day. In fact, even things could have been better but, to do it on this stage, like after so much time, it’s like my fifth nationals. Just to be able to skate like that is unbelievable. I’m still like in awe.”
Maxim Naumov won the pewter medal with 249.14 points, while Jimmy Ma finished in fifth place with a fighting free skate and a total score of 243.09.
“I felt great!” said Naumov. “I can’t lie, I think that was better than I expected for sure. I was prepared to go out there and make it happen and that’s exactly what I did. I completed my job for what I set out to do today. It felt great. [I had] one small mistake which I’m going to keep working on but definitely super happy with how I did today.”
Liam Kapeikis finished sixth (226.85) overall, followed by Yaroslav Paniot (225.99).
U.S. Figure Skating has announced that Malinin and Brown will represent the USA at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan, to be joined by Torgashev if he can achieve the minimum technical requirements. Naumov, Ma and Liam Kapeikis will represent USA at the Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA.