SAN JOSE — Ilia Malinin has had figure skating on the edge of its seat ever since he became the first person to successfully land a quadruple axel in a competition last September.
The problem is when you’re the skater the sport can’t take its eyes off everyone also sees you when you fall.
Malinin, the 18-year-old self-proclaimed “Quad God,” opened up his U.S. Figure Skating free skate at SAP Center on Sunday afternoon by attempting what would have been the first quad axel ever landed in American skating’s premier event.
Instead, Malinin failed to stick the landing.
Malinin would go on to land a quad flip, a quad Lutz and a quad Salchow as well as a triple Lutz, triple axel, triple toe-loop jump sequence late in the program to secure his first U.S. title but could not hide his disappointment in falling on his opening jump.
“Of course this wasn’t the skate I wanted,” Malinin said. “I was looking forward to a good skate and just to try and show what I’ve been working on these past couple of years.”
What Malinin showed over the past three days was an ability to put together a gold medal-level short program, something he had lacked through the first part of the season, and another prerequisite for an Olympic and world champion – resiliency.
Even with the slip, Malinin still posted a free skate mark of 177.38 for an overall score of 287.74.
“There’s always ups and downs,” he said “and you just have to get over it and move on to the next thing.”
And Sunday was a tribute to the resilience of the two men who joined Malinin on the award podium – Jason Brown, a two-time Olympian, and Andrew Torgashev, the Orange County-based 21-year-old who missed more than two seasons with injuries.
It was Brown who perhaps best put Malinin’s weekend into perspective.
“What he’s going through being in the spotlight is hard, going from every event to every event where all eyes are on you isn’t easy and he’s doing an incredible job with it,” said Brown, who was second overall at 277.31.
“I love performing,” he said. “I love competing and I hope it showed today.”
It did in a captivating free skate that completed an exorcism five years in the making.
Brown, 28, earned a team competition bronze medal at the 2014 Olympic Games and was favored to make a second Olympic team at the 2018 U.S. Championships also at SAP Center. He was third after the 2018 short program but fell on the opening jump of his free skate, a quad toe-loop and then stumbled and staggered through the rest of a disastrous program, finishing a devastated sixth.
Brown made the 2022 Olympic team but he wasn’t able to vanquish the ghosts of San Jose behind him.
“A lot of coming back to San Jose, it originally started out as I competed here five years ago and had a really, really rough experience and for five years it traumatized me and kept me up at night,” Brown recalled. “Just a lot of I close my eyes and relive that moment again and again and again. So for me just getting back out on the ice and this is a nationals I chose to come to. I didn’t have to compete this year. No one was telling me to compete. My career in a lot of ways had come to an end and this was my choice to get back out here and I had the courage to go into that rink and perform again and to kind of rewrite my story.”
Torgashev also changed the narrative Sunday of a once-promising career that appeared to be derailed by injury.
The U.S. championships were his first major competition since the 2020 World Junior Championships, 35 months ago.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I came in here hoping for maybe a top-10 finish.”
Instead, Torgashev posted Sunday’s highest free skate score (177.78) to finish third with a 256.56 overall score.
“Surreal,” Torgashev said. “I didn’t expect it.”
Like Malinin, Torgashev is the son of world-class skaters. His mother Ilona Meinichenko won the 1987 World Junior title in ice dancing while representing the Soviet Union. Artem Torgashev also skated for the Soviet Union at the international level.
Andrew Torgashev was fifth in the 2020 U.S. Championships in the senior division behind three skaters who had or would capture Olympic medals, and eighth at the World Junior Championships.
But he spent much of the next two years battling one stress fracture after another.
“By time I would get healthy and a season would come up and I’d get injured again,” Torgashev said. “I had very ambitious goals when I was getting injured. I wanted to medal on the Grand Prix circuit, medal at nationals.”
But worn down by the constant injuries, he considered quitting the sport.
“I was definitely thinking about stopping and going to school, maybe enjoying the other aspects of life,” he said. “But I just felt like I had more to offer for this sport and all the people that really put all their time and energy into me and to help me develop, to my parents who were there to help me from the start. If not for me, I felt like I owed it to them to really live out this full story and really put a good close on it. I wasn’t ready to stop. I still had a love for it.”
He switched coaches, leaving Christy Krall in Colorado Springs to join a training group at Great Park Ice in Irvine led by Rafael Arutyunyan, who guided Nathan Chen to the 2022 Olympic gold medal.
“I feel like I’d maximized everything I could have learned in Colorado Springs and I’m very grateful to Christy Krall and the other coaches who helped me develop out there,” Torgashev said. “But I felt like I really hit a cap on what I could do and Raf was the only logical option for me.”
Finally healthy, Torgashev responded to Arutyunyan’s training. Sunday he was named to the U.S. team for the World Championships in Japan in March.
“It’s like compound interest,” Torgashev said. “It’s just little by little by little you get the result that you want.”
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