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US Figure Skater Ilia Malinin Makes History With Grand Prix Final Win

Ilia Malinin could have been thrown off by a fall on his opening jump – the quad axel – at the Grand Prix Final. Then again, nobody else in the world even tries it. So instead, the 19-year-old American brushed off the mistake, put together a near-flawless free skate the rest of the way, and easily topped Japanese rival Shoma Uno to win the gold medal on Saturday at National Indoor Stadium in Beijing. Malinin finished with a career-best 314.66 points, the sixth-highest men’s total in history under the current scoring system.

Uno made a mistake on a triple axel and finished with 297.34 points. Yuma Kagiyama of Japan was third.

“I’m feeling just amazing. I just don’t have words for what just happened,” said Malinin, who captured the title 24 years after his mother, Tatiana Malinina, won the Grand Prix Final representing Uzbekistan in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

“I’m still trying to express and think of what just went on,” Malinin said. “It’s incredible to me. I’ve never felt like this before.” Malinin capped a banner day for the US after Madison Chock and Evan Bates won the ice dance for the first time.

In the women’s event, two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto won her first Grand Prix Final with a free skate set to music from Lauryn Hill. She was indeed ‘Feeling Good’ after scoring 225.70 points, easily outdistancing second-place Loena Hendrickx of Belgium and Japanese countrywoman Hana Yoshida, who overtook Nina Pinzarrone for bronze.

Sakamoto opened with her now-signature double axel before landing seven triple jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe loop in combination and a triple loop-triple toe loop to wrap up her program and the title.

“This year, I had a good start with the Grand Prix,” Sakamoto said, “so I really wanted to keep it going like that. Being able to get first place everywhere until the Final became a strength for me, I think. So I think it will make me feel confident going forward.” Sakamoto had finished off the podium in two previous disappointing Grand Prix Finals.

Chock and Bates knew something about disappointment. The American ice dancers finished second in 2015 and then settled for three more silver medals over the years, always putting together programs that left the crowd breathless but were not quite good enough for gold. That included last year, when Chock and Bates were second to their Canadian rivals, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

The reigning world champions finished with 221.61 points on Saturday, while Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy were second with 215.51. Gilles and Poirier, the world bronze medalists, finished third at 213.58.

“We have been to seven Finals but this feels really special,” Chock said. “Being here with our teammates makes it, of course, even more fun. We really enjoy each other’s company. We still have a lot of goals for ourselves on and off the ice.”

That presumably includes the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.

“We are so honored to compete here,” Bates said. “We are so happy with where we are at this point in the season.”

While Chock and Bates have been coy about their Olympic plans, the 19-year-old Malinin has made it clear he is targeting the Milano-Cortina Games. And given that he is already on top of the skating world, his chances of following Nathan Chen and giving the US back-to-back champions looks good just over two years out.

Skating to music from the HBO hit Succession, Malinin looked smooth and confident after his fall on the opening quad axel, a jump that he landed in the short program for the first time in skating history. The bronze medalist a year ago landed an effortless quad lutz, the second-hardest jump in the sport, and four more quads during the rest of his free skate Saturday.

His technical score was so far ahead of the rest of the competition that Malinin could have afford several mistakes.

“I was really just in such a great mood to skate,” he said afterward. “I knew I could trust my training and all my hours I put in.”

Source: The Guardian