Ilia Malinin exclusive: On the quad Axel, how he's inspired by Hanyu - and being raised by Olympians

While the American teenager's historic quad Axels made headlines, he's focused on his development for the long game - including Milano Cortina 2026.

7 min By Nick McCarvel
(Picture by 2022 Getty Images)
Ilia Malinin had no time to stop.

As the 17-year-old American figure skater made history earlier this season, landing the sport’s first quadruple Axel in competition at the U.S. International Classic, he couldn’t halt his free skate mid-program to soak it all in.

But it’s a part of his style: He’s looking to break new barriers in the sport, starting with a record-shattering jump in what is his first full season on the senior circuit.

“I still can't believe I'm in history right now like this... this doesn't feel real,” Malinin told Olympics.com in a recent exclusive interview.

“I wasn't expecting to even land it at all,” he added about the quad Axel. “I thought I was going to fall on it or do a step out, but the fact that I was able to hold on to my feet was just wild, crazy. But I couldn't really get too excited because I had the rest of the program to finish.”

The history-making moment took place in September at the Challenger Series event held in Lake Placid, New York, and a few weeks later the reigning world junior champion did it again, this time on one of figure skating’s biggest stages at Skate America in Boston, part of the six-stop Grand Prix Series.

“I still can't process what's happened this season,” Malinin reflected. “It's just so much. And there's a lot more to look forward to even.”

This weekend (25-26 November) Malinin will head to Espoo, Finland, for his second Grand Prix assignment of the year, looking to add to his Skate America win with a top 5 finish, which would guarantee him for the six-man Grand Prix Final, set for next month in Turin, Italy.

“I really like to challenge myself and push boundaries,” Malinin said. “And it's sort of like the daredevil in me in a way. I'm not sure where it comes from... I guess it's just from myself.”

The quad Axel - inspired by Hanyu

The quad Axel is revolutionary because of its revolutions: Four and a half of them, done with a forward take off by the athlete and landed moving backwards on the ice.

While quads have been done in the sport’s other jumps – toe-loops, Salchows, loops, flips and Lutzes – a quad Axel had not, though last season it was brought into the spotlight by two-time Olympic champion Hanyu Yuzuru, who made it his goal to land the jump in competition at Beijing 2022.

He fell just short. But Malinin was watching.

“I really wanted him to land it because he put in so much work and effort into trying to... [and] I could see that he really wanted to be the first to land it,” Malinin said of Hanyu.

“But I think that a lot of people appreciate how he's been an inspiration for me. And I think that from there I sort of wanted to see if I could take that and use it myself and hopefully show that I got the inspiration from him and he's the reason why I was able to land the quad Axel.”

Malinin received messages of congratulations from his American counterparts after the historic jump and subsequent Skate America win (he became the youngest man ever to win the event), including reigning Olympic champion Nathan Chen and two-time Olympian Vincent Zhou.

Whether or not he’ll try the jump in Espoo this weekend (and beyond) is to be determined, but he said it has not been his main focus in training – nor will it become that.

“We tend to stay away from just focusing on the Axel a lot,” said Malinin, who landed four other quadruple jumps in his free in Boston. “With the rest of the program to do, we just focus on those jumps. The Axel is not really our biggest concern this year. But I mean, it's obviously fun... and a good thing to have in my program. It's a lot of hype.”

And – he added: “One landed well, you know, it adds a lot of points to the board.”

A family business

Malinin is based in Reston, Virginia, where he grew up as the son of two Olympic figure skaters: Tatiana Malinina and Roman Skorniakov.

Both Malinina (whose name Ilia took) and Skorniakov are Russian-born and competed for Uzbekistan, Malinina the 1998 Grand Prix Final champ having placed eighth at Nagano 1998 earlier in the year.

Like his future wife, Skorniakov qualified for the Games in both 1998 and at Salt Lake City 2002.

They serve as coaches for their son, while Malinin has also spent significant time with Rafael Arutunian in Southern California, the coach who has worked with Chen - among other top Olympians.

Ilia sees himself only continuing on the family tradition come Milano Cortina 2026.

“For my parents, I think the Olympics was a very special moment,” he said. “The best advice that they gave me for the Olympics is that it's a very fun experience and you just have to put your hard work and effort into [getting there].”

“And once you finally achieve it and you're able to compete at the Olympics, you'll really think of it very different. ... I'm really focused on going to Olympics and making my parents proud and keeping that family tradition of going to the Olympics.”

Malinin isn’t rushing, as he knows that the 2026 Games are a long ways off, instead choosing to take things one step at a time, quad Axels and otherwise.

Roman Skorniakov (L) and Tatiana Malinina, 2002
Roman Skorniakov (L) and Tatiana Malinina, 2002

Ilia Malinin: A focus on growth - and the quintuple jump?

Last season, after a pair of spectacular performances at the U.S. Championships in Nashville, Malinin nearly vaulted himself onto Team USA for Beijing, only to miss out on selection due to a limited body of work on the senior international stage.

He would finish in ninth place at the 2022 World Championships, which was his senior international debut outside of the Covid-19 season.

Malinin said those experiences – coupled with his junior title – have only contributed to his growth.

“What I've learned from this year is that you don't have to be afraid to let it all out during competition,” he said. “It’s not only that you have to land everything, you also have to make it fun for yourself and the audience. I think that's where the performance and playing around with the audience comes in.”

Malinin spent much of the off season working on his Program Components mark, his artistry, to bolster his technical prowess, the quadruple Axel included. He worked in part with Shae-Lynn Bourne, the well-known choreographer who has crafted programs for Nathan Chen, and many more.

“I want to play around and just have fun” in my programs, Malinin added.

Will he next try the jump(s) that felt impossible only a short time ago: The quintuple?

“This season I’m perfecting my quad jumps so that they're as easy and as consistent can be so that I have, you know, room to add another rotation,” Malinin offered. “I want to start sort of having it in the back of my mind just to see, because, I mean, to me, it seems that it's pretty possible with what I'm already doing right now.”

“We're focusing on the season, of course, and think that after worlds and all the competitions are done, I might try going for attempting [quintuples]. I might just go full out on it, just start trying.”

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