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Ilia Malinin ‘ups the ante’ at the Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin

USA’s Ilia Malinin poses with the flag after claiming the Men’s title at the 2023-24 Grand Prix Final in Beijing, China.

2023-24 Grand Prix Final: Men

USA’s Ilia Malinin upped the ante while winning the Men’s title at the 2023-24 Grand Prix Final in Beijing, China. He became the first skater to land the quad Axel in a short program and the first skater to land all six quads in a competition. Japan’s Shoma Uno maintained second to secure the silver, while teammate Yuma Kagiyama earned the bronze.

Ilia Malinin

Malinin made history when he landed the first quad Axel in a short program. And it was good. The element received positive grades of execution (GOE) between +2 and +4 from all judges with the exception of a Belgian judge who gave it a curious -5. His remarkable routine to “Malaguena” also featured a quad Lutz-triple toe and triple Axel as well as level-four spins and footwork. He placed just ahead of Uno with a personal best of 106.90.

“I came here to surprise everyone,” said the 2023 World bronze medalist. “It was a lot of pressure on me. I knew it would be really hard for me to train it [the quad Axel] and do it, but I have been practicing it a lot. I was able to do it during practices. It was a great feeling hearing the audience go crazy after I landed it.”

Malinin had already landed the quad Axel in the free skate in the past, and this motivated him to try it in the short.

“It said in the rules it was allowed,” he pointed out. “We had some discussions with my judges in my training area who said it should be allowed. Tomorrow I will try to keep my focus, and I will probably go for the quad Axel again and hope to show a clean performance.”

The national champion was nearly spot on in his routine to music from the Succession soundtrack. His only mistake came when fell on his opening quad Axel. He went on to land five more quadruple jumps: two Lutzes, a loop, a Salchow, and a toe. Two spins were graded a level four and he placed first in the free skate and overall with two new personal best scores (207.76/314.66).

“I really wanted to land that quad Axel in both programs, the short and the long,” lamented Malinin. “I don’t really know yet what happened, but it didn’t hurt. Adrenalin kicked it. I am glad I could refocus on the rest of the program after the fall.”

The 19-year-old said he felt that the quad loop was one he worried about the most as he didn’t feel it was very stable until a few weeks ago.

“It means a lot to me to have won against all these amazing skaters who did stick around for a while,” said Malinin. I would be happy if someone else would land the quad Axel as well. It would mean I probably inspired that person. It’d be my dream to one day jump side-by-side quad Axels (with another skater).”

The skater said that what motivates him going into the second half of the season is “trying new things and little tricks.” The quad Axel in combination is definitely on his agenda.

Shoma Uno

Uno was solid in all his jumps in his brilliant routine to music from Everything Everywhere All at Once. The two-time Olympic medalist landed a quad flip, quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel. All spins and footwork were graded a level four and every element received positive GOEs. He scored a new season’s best of 106.02 for a very close second place in the short program.

“At the start, I was calmer during NHK Trophy,” said Uno, comparing his event two weeks ago. “But after the six-minute warmup I was quite anxious. Until it was the time for the steps, it became a performance where I just focused on calming down and jumping. Stephané (Lambiel, coach) also agreed with me on that. But steps were really good, and spins were good too. Stephané told me that what I put out now was my base, and next time I should challenge.”

He was surprised to learn that he had achieved a season’s best.

“I feel like I can pass it after this,” he said. “My flip wasn’t the best either, but I think there’s no big issues with the adjustment for my jumps.”

All in all, Uno observed that it was a better performance than what he put out at NHK Trophy.

“Stephané calmed down a lot after NHK Trophy. He watched my daily practices and said I performed in my best shape. I think he was a bit sad that it ended up like it wasn’t that way. He also thinks the step sequence was good today. Although Stephané’s choreography is always difficult, this time it (steps) has a lot of parts that focuses on my strengths, so I always skate with the feeling that it’s easy to skate to.”

The 25-year-old pointed out that the flip is not his best jump, and he wants to improve it.

The two-time world champion gave a good performance in his free skate but landed several jumps on the quarter: quad flip, quad toe and triple flip. He also popped an Axel, but landed a solid quad toe-triple toe, quad loop and triple Axel. His flying camel spin and excellent footwork were graded a level four. Unfortunately, he also received a time deduction in his remarkable routine to “Timelapse” and “Spiegel im Spiegel.” He placed second in the free skate and overall (191.32/297.34).

Uno felt he did well overall but felt that his performance at NHK Trophy two weeks ago was much better.

“Since the six-minute warm up, I just… It wasn’t very good,” he said. “There are jumps I could do. I also landed an Axel. It’s suspicious. I did think it could come out unstable. So, I dropped my speed in the actual performance, and I just did what I can with those circumstances. I was able to adjust to that pretty well. I think I gave a performance which suited my abilities. But ever since NHK, I’ve been looking back at my practices and think they weren’t going well.”

“In regard to the results, I don’t think the reason is what everyone thinks,” he added. “It’s completely unrelated to the results in NHK. But before NHK, I was in a really good condition. I don’t want to say much. In comparison, after a competition, I think it’s important to say things that didn’t go well, but I think it’s also good to say things that went well. The best part is that I was happy that Stephané was pleased.”

When asked if he could imagine attempting the quad Axel, Uno was firm.

“There’s absolutely no way for me to be able to jump the quad Axel,” he said. “I’m really sorry I can’t make that dream a reality (of Malinin’s dream to do side-by-side quad Axels). But if Malinin didn’t jump the quad Axel, it would’ve remained unknown for a really long time. He really has the technical level on jumps that I have never seen before. I wonder how many more years it’ll take for an athlete at that level to show up.”

Yuma Kagiyama

Kagiyama was solid in his keen short program to “Believer” by Imagine Dragons. The 2022 Olympic silver medalist landed a quad Salchow, quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel. All jumps received positive GOES, including his level-four spins and footwork. He was awarded 103.72 points for third place.

“I was able to enjoy the competition quite a lot today,” said Kagiyama. “It was really fun because this was the competition that made me feel ‘this is what I wanted to do!’

Kagiyama knew that Uno had put out a good performance before he skated.

“I didn’t intend to worry about the scores, but I was able to tell that he had an amazing performance by the reactions of audience, and coach Stéphane. It made me feel like doing my best even more.”

The 20-year-old had evaluated what wasn’t “enough” and what went “well” at NHK Trophy.

“But like this, even after getting over 100, this is a competition where you can’t tell if you can be on the podium,” he pointed out. “While being conscious of the rival athletes, the first thing is to do what I’m supposed to do until after the free.”

The 2023 NHK Trophy champion delivered a near-flawless and remarkable routine to “Rain, in Your Black Eyes.” The only mistake came at the beginning when he doubled his opening quad Salchow. He quickly recovered to land a quad toe-Euler-triple Salchow. The skater also landed six clean triple jumps, including two triple Axels, and earned a level four on all spins and footwork. He was awarded many positive GOEs, particularly on his quad combination, steps, and last two spins. He placed fourth (184.93) in the free skate but was able to maintain third overall (288.65).

“Compared to the short program, I felt more nervous,” admitted the two-time world silver medalist. “I felt a bit worried after the initial mistake, but I was able to calm down, and performed the rest of the performance quite well.”

Kagiyama was asked about the quad Axel and replied, “When all my dreams have come true in figure skating, I would actually love to give the quad Axel a try. But I am sure my quality of this jump would never match Ilia’s.”

“I competed with excellent skaters during my last three competitions,” he said of what he learned from the season so far. “I want to catch up with these high-quality skaters. I aim to be an even better skater.”

Adam Siao Him Fa

Adam Siao Him Fa of France doubled his opening quad Lutz, but quickly recovered to land a solid triple Axel and quad toe-triple toe in his bluesy short program to “The Prophet.” All spins and footwork were graded a level four, but the mistake was costly, and he finished sixth with 88.36 points.

“I feel bit disappointed after the mistake on the Lutz,” admitted the 2023 European champion. “But competition is not over yet. I will take the day off tomorrow and do what I can. I don’t know the reason; I need to go back and rewatch. I actually felt really good today. I tried not to think about being a favorite as anything can happen on the day. I try to do my best.”

Siao Him Fa, who won both solo Grand Prix events, had only two errors in his free skate to music by Max Richter. He hung on to the landing of his opening quad Lutz, and then landed a solid quad toe-triple toe. He stepped out of a quad Salchow but landed a quad toe and four clean triple jumps. Unfortunately, he slipped at the beginning of his choreo sequence, putting a knee down, but it was hard to catch with the untrained eye as he improvised. It didn’t affect the flow of the program, which also featured good level-four spins and footwork. He placed third (189.92) in the free skate and moved up two spots to fourth overall (278.28).

“I feel very relieved,” said Siao Him Fa. “This was my first Grand Prix Final, and going in there as a favorite I felt a lot of pressure. Today was a bit better than yesterday.”

On hearing that a lot of the Junior skaters were rooting for him, he said, “Wow, I have no words! Honestly, thank you! I worked so hard to be at my level and it feels incredible to inspire younger skaters.”

He will compete next at French Nationals.

“Of course, I will go there with full power,” said the 22-year-old. “I will maybe include the quad flip there. I wanted to originally try it here but didn’t feel secure enough.”

Kao Miura

Japan’s Kao Miura struggled a bit in his short to “This Place Was a Shelter” after stepping out of his opening quad Salchow. However, the 2023 Four Continents champion landed a good triple Axel and then tacked on a triple toe to the backend of a quad toe. His footwork and two spins were graded a level four and he picked up a new season’s best of 94.86 for third place.

“The three before me had such amazing performances, so I worried if I would be able to do it too,” confessed the 18-year-old. “I felt that I wanted to follow them up with a good performance without thinking about rankings, although I made small mistakes. Even so, it was a situation where it would’ve ended if I didn’t have a combination. So, I was slightly worried because the quad was a little off, but I’m glad that I was able to add a triple to it.”

Miura said that he felt relatively calm when taking the ice.

“The Salchow wasn’t too bad either, but when I tried to jump the combo, I had a mistake that I wouldn’t have made in practices. It’s something that happens to skaters in competition, but I was able to relax and go for the toeloop.”

After seeing his scores, the skater felt that his performance was good aside from the jumps and that the short program helped him gain more confidence.

“It’s a mysterious confidence, but I feel like I wouldn’t make a mistake in my toeloop in the second half in the case where I have to do a combination jump,” he added. “I couldn’t add it to my Salchow, so I did a toe-toe. I also did it in practices when I made mistakes.”

The 2023 World Junior champion placed fifth (166.67) in his demanding free skate to music from Attack On Titan. He made three costly errors: stepped out of quad loop and quad toe (intended to be a combination) and put a foot down on a quad Salchow. However, he landed a good solo quad toe and three clean triple jumps. He slipped to fifth place overall with a total score of 261.53 points.

Kevin Aymoz

Kevin Aymoz of France landed a quad toe-triple toe and triple Lutz in his passionate short program to “Bird Gerhl.” The only error came when he put a foot down on a triple Axel. All spins and footwork were graded a level four with high GOEs and he placed fifth with 93.20 points.

“I felt stressed, but not stressed at the same time,” said the 26-year-old.  “I am just happy to be here! It’s crazy that it’s been already four years since my last GP Final. But I am the oldest competitor here and have experience and I feel like this is a bit of my secret weapon.”

The skater shared that the story of his short is about two friends that were born in the wrong body and have been struggling with this.

“This program is for them,” said Aymoz. “I love them so much and I hope they are proud of themselves.”

The 2023 Skate America silver medalist had a rough free skate, taking three falls to finish sixth (126.71/219.91).

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