Ilia Malinin competes during the men's free skate at the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 9, 2022 in Nashville.
Each Olympic cycle brings up-and-coming figure skaters to center stage. That will be especially true for Team USA, as six of the 16 athletes who competed at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 will participate in the six-event 2022-23 ISU Grand Prix Series, which kicks off with Skate America this weekend in Norwood, Massachusetts.
With fast-developing young talent pushing technical boundaries and veterans returning for another chance at glory, these are the storylines to watch at Skate America and beyond.
Ascent of the “quadg0d”
After six U.S. crowns, three world titles and Olympic gold, Nathan Chen is focusing on his studies at Yale University. Two-time Olympian Vincent Zhou is busy at Brown University. Jason Brown, another two-time Olympian, is not competing this fall, either.
Into the breach leaps 17-year-old Ilia Malinin, the world junior champion who made history last month when he landed the first-ever quadruple axel in competition in his free skate at the U.S. International Classic in Lake Placid, New York. His social media handle, “quadg0d,” could not be more apt.
The four-and-a-half revolution axel — the most difficult (and valuable) jump in the sport — along with three other quads vaulted Malinin from sixth after the short program to win the event by more than 20 points over the Lake Placid field. He hopes to repeat the feat at Skate America.
“As of right now, I’m planning to have (the quad axel) in my program with all of the rest of the quads,” Malinin told 2014 Olympian Polina Edmunds on her podcast “Bleav in Figure Skating.”
Malinin placed second to Chen at the 2022 U.S. championships last season but was left off the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team in favor of Zhou and Brown, who had larger bodies of work over longer careers. At the 2022 world championships in Montpelier, France, in March, Malinin skated a strong short program before a nervous, error-ridden free skate dropped him to ninth place.
Now, the teen from Vienna, Virginia — who trains under his parents, former competitors for Uzbekistan, and Chen’s coach, Rafael Arutunian — is ready to lead the charge. Malinin's biggest competition was expected to come from Yuma Kagiyama, Japan's Olympic silver medalist, but he withdrew from Skate America due to injury.
“I’ll try to go for a seven-quad layout (in the free skate),” he said. “Physically, I’d say (the quad axel) is pretty easy to do. It’s kind of more the mental side. It’s kind of scary to go into.”
Youngsters in Women’s Field
The women’s field has a changing of the guard as well. Two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, second in the world last season, has retired, as has 2022 U.S. champion Mariah Bell. Karen Chen, the third U.S. woman in Beijing and a student at Cornell University, has not formally ended her competitive career but is not competing in this season’s Grand Prix.
Team USA’s clear frontrunner is 15-year-old Isabeau Levito, who like Malinin won the world junior title in April. With a light, ethereal style, as well as consistent if occasionally imperfect triple-triple combinations, Levito makes her senior international debut this season and has already won two smaller events.
Skate America will be the Mount Holly, New Jersey, native’s toughest test yet. Russian women, who have dominated in recent years with their quads and triple axels, cannot compete internationally this season due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Still, the Norwood field is deep. It includes Japanese powerhouse Kaori Sakamoto, the Olympic bronze medalist and 2022 world champion, as well as three strong South Korean competitors. Team USA’s Amber Glenn, a dynamic if unpredictable competitor, could make waves, especially if she hits her triple axel, a jump she has landed in practice but has thus far has been unable to execute in competition.
Lindsay Thorngren, Team USA’s 16-year-old world junior bronze medalist, will not compete in Norwood; she makes her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada on Oct. 28-30. A strong jumper, she placed fifth in the U.S. last season and could be Levito’s strongest domestic challenger.