Russia calls Ilia Malinin its own when he wins medals and does a quadruple axel. In the U.S. they remember his roots when he joked that he would have to change his orientation to raise the components.
The scandal began with a live broadcast on Malinin’s social network: in response to a joking request “prove that you are straight,” Ilia replied that he could no longer remain so, because otherwise he would not get high components.
This phrase would have been enough to make a big story, but in the same broadcast Malinin managed to hurt Hanyu’s fans. Ilia’s words: “Yuzuru was annoyed, congratulating Ilia on the world’s first quadruple axel.
Malinin and Brown are the main antagonists of the USA national team: while Ilya is hunting for the records of Hanyu and Cheng, Jason is keeping the top without quadruples
Malinin quickly realized the joke had gone far: on social media, he apologized “to everyone affected” and called his behavior juvenile. And in response, he received comments that he was no longer a child, and the apology was not very convincing.
Malinin’s cancellation quickly launched: even Irina Rodnina’s longtime rival Ty Babilonia intervened, asking in a tweet for the American federation to pay attention to Ilia. She later deleted the post, but liked the user’s post, which blasted the skater for the insincerity of the apology.
Although Ilia in a spontaneous stand-up skated without names, many believed that the god of quadruplets mocked Brown: Jason is openly gay, who has always received the highest components. Besides, Ilia might have had claims to a teammate a year ago, when Jason went to the Olympics, while vice-champion Malinin remained at home.
Even if Ilia did not mean Brown in particular, to joke about components for orientation with Jason on the team is like Akatieva joking about trimetazidine when Valieva’s doping case is open. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Brown was the only American left in the kiss-and-go area to support Malinin after the short at the Team World Championship – the others did not wait for the results.
Trying to remedy the situation, Ilia published a video of a parallel spin with Jason, but it only came out worse. The recording, judging by the banners and seats in the audience, was made a few weeks ago during the Japanese shows – it seems that Malinin posted it just to show that there is no conflict with Brown.
The post sparked a new wave of outrage: users have now accused Ilya of parasitizing Jason’s name and intending to hide behind him from accusations. In the comments is a cocktail of “privileged white man, how can you even complain”, “to be honest, you’re not riding 8 in components, but 4” and of course “get off Yuzuru” written by those who were more offended by the reference to Hanyu.
Surprisingly, in a similar situation two years ago there was Nathan Chen, perhaps the most diplomatic and accurate skater. He could not provoke a conflict with endless questions about Yuzuru, or provocations about the doping case of Valiyeva and the failed medal ceremony of the team event.
Nevertheless, before the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, Chen made a puncture: he called himself “straight in a sport dominated by LGBT+ athletes” and said he was trying to circumvent the trend for femininity in figure skating by using hip-hop and pop compositions in his programs. Nathan subsequently had to apologize and promised to become a more dignified representative of the sport.
Ilia’s situation is more complicated: first, his statement turned out to be rougher, and second, Malinin’s position in the team is obviously much weaker than Chen’s. Nathan gave the odious interview already the world champion and main contender for the Olympic gold, while for Ilya the main prize is still the ISU Skating Awards.
Malinin’s amazing technicality will never translate into high scores: Brown was even better at the Team World Championships without a quadruple in the Free Skate, with a total difference of just 0.5 in favor of Jason and 1 point for the national team.
But perhaps the main reason for the criticism of Ilia is his unwavering self-confidence, which reminds many of insolence. Statements that he should be the one to go to Beijing, promises of a quick fifth and the trademark “God of the Quad” hats irritate many people – especially in sport, where the universal answer to any question is a little-worded “keep working”.
Any misstep of Malinin against this background is perceived as an occasion to bring him down from the height of the quadruple axel, and at the same time – under the guise of fair anger because of an inappropriate joke – to tease on the topic of wooden skating, breakdowns in important tournaments and unimpressive programs.
Fourth axel and dreams of a fifth – an attempt to fight a system that will write Malinin into history, but is unlikely to bring medals
Brown is really the leader of the season in the second grade: he has appeared in two international tournaments and scored about 143 points on the sum of the programs. Malinin was not even in the top 10 in terms of the average components: Grassl, Yamamoto and Sadowski are above him.
However, it’s strange to argue that Brown is more expressive and has better glide than Malinin, whose programs are largely built around jumps. Jason probably wouldn’t get close to tens if he weren’t an American, but it’s unlikely that Ilya with a Mexican passport would see eight in the scoreboard either.
Brown’s strength, however, is not so much in the second grade, as in the quality bonuses for the elements. To compare: Malinin, who had the record basic difficulty of the free routine at the WRC, received about zero GOEs, while Jason used them to increase his technical score from 71,37 to 90,03. Similar story with Aimo, who had 17.86 points for quality surcharges, and Cha, whose surcharge was 20.25.
ISU had been betting on cleanliness to the detriment of difficulty long before Malinin reached the adult level. Shcherbakova used the same principle to beat Trusova in Beijing and Kostornaya to defeat both of them in her best season.
Chen, whose image and programs Ilya and many other champions – from Yagudin and Plushchenko to Fernandez and Uno – use, also does not fit Malinin’s logic. If someone tried to reproach Hanyu for overly romantic costumes and allegedly non-personal images, he certainly is not guilty of speculating on his personal life.
The resentment of the judges in Ilya and his entourage is quite obvious. It permeates the World Cup 2023 kiss-and-race, is echoed in Malinin’s ironic post “working on gliding” and is explicitly declared by his agent Ari Zakarian:
“As for the result, I’m amazed and ‘thankful’ to the judges who gave the quadruple axel a score of 12.86. You could have done a nice triple axel and gotten about the same amount. So I say “thank you” to the judges who so gracefully scored his quadruple axel. I remind you, the first one in the history of the world championships.
It is partly reasonable: the quadruple axel costs really unfairly little, and the complication of programs is clearly not the priority of the ISU. Another thing is that Malinin has been playing under these rules for many years, and even Chen was not forgiven for failures in his free skating in the spirit of Ilia’s free skating at the World Team Championships when he had them.
Malinin is able to choose the way of a second Plushenko: to be an ambassador for the quads, to lobby for the emergence of five in the grading system, and to declare rides with crazy complexity a new aesthetic. But he will always be vulnerable on this road: you can only do something unique if you are completely sure that you are right.
When Plushchenko was bragging about the lack of ligatures in his programs and defiantly stepping over the first step of the podium, he was an Olympic champion whose approach justified itself for many years. Malinin’s bet on the quadruple axel has not yet played out – although it has allowed him to be memorable.
Another thing is that the degree of hatred on social media Ilya significantly exceeded the level of inappropriateness of the phrase for which he was canceled. An unfortunate joke gave a reason to settle a score with those who have long considered Malinin arrogant, self-righteous and too straightforward.
The evocative ease with which Ilya performed a jump that some had not even dreamed of, while others tried to do for several years – a separate reason to wait for any of his mistakes and hyperbolize it into an incorrigible failure.
The question is whether Malinin himself is ready for such pressure.