Ilia Malinin placed first at the U.S. Championship Series in Leesburg in October 2021. Credit: Melanie Heaney

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Someone with 23 followers who had never posted on Instagram before took the handle “Quadgod,” so Ilia Malinin opted to go with “Quadg0d,” with a zero, instead. The 17-year-old figure skater from Fairfax now boasts more than 6,800 followers, his feed filled with three-second videos of the auburn-haired teen launching himself into the air, spinning four times around and either landing on a ¼ inch blade, or landing on his ass. 

Malinin will attempt to live up to his “Quadg0d” handle this weekend at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville. He will perform his short program on Saturday and a longer free skate Sunday. Should the Reston teen finish in the top three overall, he could earn one of the three spots for men on the United States Olympic figure skating team that heads to Beijing in February.

To do that, he’ll likely need to land four quadruple jumps in his program and take down one of the three veteran senior men expected to land on the podium: Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown. It’s a daunting, but possible task given that Malinin took home gold at two Junior Grand Prix events last year in France and Austria, earned a bronze medal at his first senior level international event at the 2021 Cup of Austria, and comes into the U.S. Nationals as one of the world’s best junior skaters.

Malinin qualified for senior nationals by winning a “Championship Series” event, one of eight nationwide, held at Leesburg’s new Ion International Training Center last October. Surrounded by Amazon-like warehouses, with few nearby dining options except for a strip-mall Panera Bread, it was an inauspicious place for top skaters to launch their bids for Beijing. One big name on site included former national champion Gracie Gold. For local skaters across divisions, the event was a chance to celebrate Malinin. Teenage skaters with their hair held up in complicated French braids and secured by rhinestone bobby pins huddled under fleece blankets in the bleachers to watch his free skate, the longer of his two programs.

“Ooooh. He has a team U.S.A. jacket,” observed one girl as Malinin warmed up. 

“Oh. My. God. He follows me!” squealed another, prompting the friends to scroll through their feeds looking for an emoji, a “like”—anything that indicated the local superstar was aware of their presence.

“Everyone is just here to see him,” one girl sighed in resignation. She watched in awe with the rest of the arena as “Nobody Knows” by Autograf, came through the speakers. Malinin landed four quad jumps: Two quadruple toeloops, one quadruple Lutz, and one quadruple Salchow, plus a triple Axel and two triple-triple combinations. 

His total score: a whopping 274.11 points

Ryan Dunk, of Baltimore, won silver and scored 190.33.

Speaking after the competition to City Paper, Malinin’s father and coach, Roman Skorniakov, was calm, collected, and trying to make sure his son didn’t lose the suitcase that held his skates, known as boots in skater lingo, since blades are purchased separately. Even when he’s not jet-setting to competitions, Skorniakov described his son’s schedule as “very busy.” He spends his mornings in school, trains in the afternoon, and then tackles homework. 

Skorniakov and Malinin’s mother, Tatyana Malinina, immigrated to the United States after successful careers skating for Uzbekistan. From their home rink in Reston, they’ve begun building a stable of singles skaters, including Jill Heiner, an 18-year-old from Annapolis who finished second in Leesburg. 

Heiner is also representing the DMV at U.S. Nationals in Nashville this weekend. Skating to “Romeo and Juliet,” she won her group with a fist-pumping performance, and sits in tenth place overall heading into her long program Friday night, ahead of veteran skaters like Starr Andrews and Amber Glenn

Also hoping to shine brighter than their sequins in Nashville are Montgomery County ice dancers Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, who teamed up in 2019 after previously competing with their respective siblings. Green and Parsons finished fourth at U.S. Nationals last year, and need to move up one spot in order to make the Olympic team. (Ice dancers compete in the rhythm dance Friday and the longer free dance on Saturday.) 

But it’s Malinin who most skating hawks think has the best shot of traveling to Beijing. Chen is going for his record sixth national title, but Zhou’s performances are inconsistent. Malinin’s 274.11 points that he scored in Leesburg is not far off from Brown’s personal best. To skate his potential, Malinin will need to overcome some lingering ankle problems that recently kept him from training for three weeks. He had hoped to compete in the senior men’s competition last year, but fractured his ankle after placing fifth at Skate America, an annual international competition. 

“I definitely want make it this year,” Malinin told U.S. Figure Skating Fan Zone about his Olympic chances. “I just feel like I can do it.”

It’s been a long time since a men’s singles skater from the D.C. area was a serious contender at U.S. Nationals. Michael Weiss, a native Washingtonian who also trained in Fairfax County, won his first of three U.S. senior men’s titles in 1999, five years before Malinin was born. If the “Quadg0d” completes all of his planned four-revolution jumps this weekend, he just might be Beijing bound.