SAN JOSE — Ilia Malinin is a high school senior who likes to play video games and ride his bike in the woods near his family’s home in Washington, D.C.’s Virginia suburbs, is a whiz at math, and wants to go to the prom.
He doesn’t, however, have a driver’s license.
“Right now it doesn’t really seem that necessary because the only places I’m going to are the to rink, to school and home,” Malinin said. “I’m not in a rush to get my driver’s license.”
Why should he be? Who needs four wheels when you can fly?
Which is why he isn’t totally accurate when describing the reasons for not wanting to get behind the wheel.
Malinin, the teenage self-proclaimed “Quad God” and the most exciting athlete in American figure skating as it glides into the post-Nathan Chen era with this week’s U.S. Championships, has already gone places no other skater has.
On Sept. 15, competing in the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Lake Placid, New York, Malinin, 18, became the first skater to cleanly land a quadruple Axel in competition, a feat two-time Olympian Johnny Weir has compared to the first moon landing.
A month later, Malinin landed the jump again, touching down after four-and-a-half rotations on the way to becoming the youngest man to win Skate America, an International Skating Union Grand Prix event.
This week, Malinin promises to turn the SAP Center into his own personal launch pad.
Malinin takes the ice Friday afternoon for the men’s short program not only as a heavy favorite to capture his first U.S. men’s title but as a leading – if very early – gold-medal contender for the 2026 Olympic Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.
“What I can say is he is beyond out of this world,” said Jason Brown, a 2022 Olympian, “and U.S. figure skating is so lucky to have such a bright future with Ilia.”
Malinin’s liftoff couldn’t come at a better time for American skating with Chen and Vincent Zhou, another 2022 Olympian, busy studying in the Ivy League and unlikely to return to competitive skating..
Malinin’s favorite subject at George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia, is – no surprise – physics.
Just four months after landing the first quad Axel, Malinin is already talking about his next quantum leap – a quintuple jump.
“It’s definitely on the back of my mind,” Malinin said.
The rest of the sport, however, is still coming to grips with his quad Axel.
Kurt Browning of Canada landed the first quad jump, a toe-loop, at the 1988 World Championships. Chen hit five quads in winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in February.
But the quad Axel remained elusive. It is skating’s most difficult jump because it is the only jump where a skater takes off facing forward from the outside edge of one skate, landing on the backward outside edge of the other skate, requiring an extra half-rotation before touching down.
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, attempted the quad Axel in his Beijing Games free skate but failed to land it.
And now Malinin isn’t just talking about pushing the edge of the envelope but ripping it wide open.
The quint jump was part of his discussion with Rafael Arutyunyan, Chen’s coach, during a consulting trip to Arutyunyan’s Orange County training base.
“I think after the season I’ll think about it and we’ll see, maybe we’ll see one,” Malinin said.
Malinin is coached by his parents Roman Skorniakov and Tatiana Milinina, both of whom skated in two Olympic Games for Uzbekistan.
The native of Fairfax, Virginia, dubbed himself the “Quad God” on social media after landing his first quad in his early teens. Malinin, then just 17, landed four quads in finishing a surprising second to Chen at last year’s U.S. Championships in Nashville. But a selection committee named Zhou and Brown to the U.S. Olympic team over the teenager in a controversial decision. Instead, Malinin was picked for the World Championships in something of a consolation prize.
He was fourth after the Worlds short program, less than a point out of third place and the bronze medal, but struggled with a pair of quads in the long program and faded to ninth. He rebounded to win the World junior title, setting world junior records for the short program, free skate and overall score.
He is also one of the few skaters at the world-class level to attend public high school.
“I think that it’s definitely helped me with my social life and having a little more social things in my life,” said Malinin, who is chauffeured from home to school to rink and back by his parents.. “Because I think if I only did online school, I would only be at the rink and it would be really hard because it would be really hard for me to try and make new friends or have time to go outside and just enjoy the weather. And I think with school it’s definitely helped me to open up. I can try to find new things.”
And so the quint jump isn’t the only thing on Malinin’s to-do list. He is finally ready to get behind the wheel.
“I have my learner’s permit,” he said.