American figure skater Ilia Malinin began his Grand Prix season in a familiar place.
Right at the top of the standings at Skate America.
The 18-year-old from Fairfax, Virginia, began the defense of his title with a brilliant short program Friday night to put a huge gap between himself and the rest of the field. Malinin was flawless on his three jump sequences, including a difficult quad lutz-triple toe combination, to score 104.06 points and earn a huge ovation at Credit Union of Texas Event Center in Allen, Texas.
Kevin Aymoz of France was second with 97.34 points and Shun Sato of Japan third with 91.61 points.
“I mean, I’m still kind of in shock. I was not expecting that,” said Malinin, who won both of his Grand Prix assignments in his senior debut last season. “Of course I was really prepared and in that zone. I was really glad I was able to do it.”
In the pairs competition, Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel of Germany overcame her fall on the side-by-side triple salchow to score 63.59 points and take a slim lead over Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud of Canada.
The competition resumes Saturday with the men’s and pairs free skates, the rhythm dance and the women’s short program.
Malinin, the self-styled “quadg0d” on social media for his incredible leaping ability, spent most of the offseason working hard on his artistry. But the world bronze medalist showed Friday night that he can still do the jumps with uncanny ease.
Malinin began his short program, set to “Malagueña” by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, with a quad toe loop in which he spun so fast he was a blur. Then came the quad lutz, the second-hardest jump behind the quad axel, and Malinin combined it with a triple toe loop to drive up his score. His triple axel looked easy given he is perfectly capable of doing a quad.
Oh, and he finished with his signature “Raspberry Twist,” a trick that he designed.
“I mean, it’s really a lot of fun for me to do,” said Malinin, one of the early favorites for the 2026 Winter Olympics, “especially in front of a crowd like that, to watch all those unique tricks I have to put out in a unique way,”
The question now is whether Malinin will try the quad axel in Saturday night’s free skate. The first to ever land the jump in competition showed it off in practice this week, but Malinin indicated he might keep the quad axel shelved so he can ensure a solid finish — ideally, a victory — that would help him earn enough points to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.
“I’m mainly focused on a solid theme program,” Malinin said, “but the Final, I may add it in there.”
Hocke and Kunkel have already had a busy season pairs season, the Germans finishing second at the Shanghai Trophy and third at the Nebelhorn Trophy and Lombardia Trophy, a pair of lower-tier Challenger Series events.
Pereira and Michaud were behind them with 63.22 points. Chelsea Liu and Balasz Nagy of the U.S. were third with 61.23 points, and fellow American pairs team Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard fourth with 52.92 for their short program.
“We’re in our fourth competition, so it feels like the middle of the season,” Hocke said. “We had one obvious big mistake — I fell on the sal — so that’s something we’re not happy about, but the rest we can be pretty proud of.”
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