Ilia Malinin wins second straight U.S. title

By Gina Capellazzi, Team FSO website administrator
Photos by Robin Ritoss

Would we see the quadruple Axel successfully landed at the U.S. Championships for the first time? That was the question many fans had coming into the U.S. Championships in Columbus, Ohio. Experiencing some boot problems during the week, it was questionable if Ilia Malinin would indeed attempt it. However, with a double-digit lead after the short program, Malinin went for it in his free skate, successfully landing his first quadruple Axel at the U.S. Championships.

In addition to the quadruple Axel, Malinin landed quadruple Lutz and quadruple Salchow in his Succession free skate. He also landed a triple Lutz-triple Axel-triple toe sequence, which earned a total of 21.28 points. But the 2023 World bronze medalist doubled planned quadruple loop and quadruple toe and also fell on his second quadruple Lutz. He earned a free skate score of 185.78 and a total score of 294.35, clinching the gold by nearly 30 points.

“It was a fun skate. Especially with all the boot problems I’ve had in the past week, I was happy to get through,” Malinin said following the free skate. “The crowd and the audience, they were really supporting me, cheering me on. It was an amazing program having them out there supporting me and getting me through the whole program.”

While Malinin had a nearly 19-point lead after the short program, less than two points separated second through fifth place.

Fan favorite Jason Brown sat in third place after the short program. Going back to last season’s free skate, “The Impossible Dream”, Brown completed eight triple jumps, including two triple Axels. It comes as no surprise that Brown received the highest component score (92.41) of the event. He earned a free skate score of 175.84, which was second in the free skate and moved up to claim the silver medal with a total score of 264.50. In the press conference after the free skate, Brown said he was unaware of just how close the race was between second through fifth place.

“At this point in my career, I’m really focused on the performances,” Brown said. I did not know the scores going into it. I don’t even know the scores going out of it. I just focused on trying to do the best that I could and hopefully give the audience a performance to remember.”

The podium finish marks the ninth of Brown’s career at the senior level, and at age 29, he becomes the oldest man to make a U.S. podium since Todd Eldredge won the 2002 title at age 30.

Sitting in fifth place after the short program was Camden Pulkinen. The 23-year-old opened his Tosca free skate with a quadruple toe loop. He landed seven triple jumps, including two triple Axels. He did single a planned triple Salchow that was in competition with a triple Axel. He earned a free skate score of 174.43, which was third in the free skate. His total score of 262.33 was enough for him to move up to third place overall and claim the bronze medal. The bronze is Pulkinen’s first senior U.S. Championships medal.

“I’m happy with it,” Pulkinen said.  “On the Salchow, I wish it would’ve been a little more there, but overall, I’m happy with how I skated. I’m happy to be on the podium finally. I put together two complete programs here, which was honestly the goal.”

Pulkinen has been training while finishing up his senior year, studying psychology and economics at Columbia University in New York City. Pulkinen told Figure Skaters Online  that he will graduate in May.

U.S. Figure Skating has named Malinin, Brown and Pulkinen to its 2024 World Championship team.

In second after the short program was 2023 U.S. pewter medalist Maxim Naumov. Also skating to Tosca, Naumov opened his free skate with a quadruple Salchow. He fell on his triple Axel in the second half of the program and received an edge call on his triple flip. He earned a free skate score of 170.78 and an overall score of 260.50 to earn his second-straight U.S. pewter medal.

“I feel good,” Naumov said. “I’m relieved with how everything went. That little, tiny mistake, it definitely cost me, but I’m still glad I went for it. I’d rather go for it and fall then not go for it and wonder what happened if I did.”

Pulkinen was scheduled to go to the Four Continents Championships this week in Shanghai, China. Following the men’s free skate, Pulkinen withdrew from the event, releasing a statement saying, “With the recent announcement of my selection to the 2024 Worlds Team, I have decided to withdraw from Four Continents. I will be prioritizing my recovery & training heading into Montreal. I am thankful for all the support throughout this year’s U.S. Championships and I’m looking forward to representing Team USA at Worlds.”

As the first alternate, Naumov will replace Pulkinen at Four Continents.

The 2023 U.S. bronze medalist Andrew Torgashev finished the event in fifth place. Torgashev told the media that he has been dealing with a back injury since Skate America. Because of that, he did not attempt any quadruples in the short program, but attempted a quadruple toe in his Muse free skate, but ended up doubling it. He completed five clean triple jumps, including triple Lutz-triple toe combination. He earned a free skate score of 151.19, which was seventh in the free skate. His overall score was 239.21.

Rounding out the top six was Jimmy Ma. Ma, who was in 9th after the short program, debuted a new free skate in Columbus, skating to Phantom of the Opera, choreographed by Nikolai Morozov.

“I’m very happy,” Ma said of his skate. “This is more along the lines of what I am as a skater.”