SAITAMA, Japan: Self-proclaimed “QuadGod” Ilia Malinin said Tuesday that he is “ready to deliver” at this week’s world figure skating championships in Japan and cement his place as one of the sport’s hottest new talents.
The 18-year-old American became the first skater ever to land the ultra-difficult quadruple axel jump in competition in September last year, in only his first season in the senior ranks.
He successfully executed it again one month later to win Skate America, and then carried off his first US national men’s title in January.
Now he has arrived in Saitama, north of Tokyo, to try to wrest the world title away from Japan’s defending champion Shoma Uno.
Olympic champion Nathan Chen is not competing while he studies at university, and Russian skaters are again banned from the competition because of the war in Ukraine.
The stage is set for Malinin, who is not about to shy away from the spotlight.
“If people are putting pressure on you, that means you’re really important,” he told reporters, wearing a cap emblazoned with a Japanese translation of QuadGod.
“I love all the attention. I think that it drives my motivation up and it really increases my energy and my adrenaline and all of that.”
Malinin said he was “really confident” about his chances of winning, and was “ready to deliver it all on the ice”.
His bullish tone was in stark contrast to Uno, who told reporters earlier in the day that he was struggling with his jumps and had “doubts” about his ability to defend his title.
“I feel like it’s not going to get better unless something big changes,” Uno said.
“I don’t know what kind of result I can aim for in my present state,” he added.
Uno is still seen as the favourite to win ahead of Malinin and other rivals, including France’s European champion Adam Saio Him Fa and Canada’s Keegan Messing.
But Malinin will be the centre of attention after landing the quad axel that eluded Japanese legend Yuzuru Hanyu.
Two-time Olympic champion Hanyu spent years trying to execute the jump but retired in July last year having failed to land it cleanly in competition.
Malinin achieved the feat just one month later, and paid tribute to Hanyu’s legacy after practising on the Saitama ice where the retired great enjoyed so much success.
“I’ve been watching Hanyu and I really wanted him to land it first,” said Malinin.
“I’m just so glad that he showed me that it was possible, and from there I just kept working and trying.”
Malinin just missed out on a place on the US Olympic team last year, but made his world championships debut in France the following month, finishing ninth.
He said he had “definitely seen a lot of improvement” in himself since then, and is relishing the attention that comes with his QuadGod nickname. “I just came up with it, but now everyone knows me by that,” he said.
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