“At 15, he wanted to quit skating and do football. Now he wants to jump seven quads.” Interview with grandfather of Ilia Malinin
Interview with grandfather of Ilia Malinin. Valeri Malinin told about Ilia’s mother’s path in figure skating, relocating to the USA and difference in trainings in Russian and in the USA.
source: sport24 by Konstantin Lesik
Valeri Pavlovich Malinin lives in Novosibirsk, Russia, with his wife and has worked as a figure skating coach for more than 50 years. He was the first coach of Ilia’s mother, Tatiana, who skated for Uzbekistan.
Why did Tatiana (Ilia’s mother) decide to represent Uzbekistan?
Valeri Malinin: After the collapse of the USSR, many of those who could not break into the Russian national team ended their careers. And how do you get there? After all, the places are occupied by Moscow and St. Petersburg. Therefore, it was possible to participate in international competitions by skating for Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and other countries of the former Union.
Well, it’s still so. Look at the Baltic countries, Poland—there are a lot of our guys there. Well, even in the USA. Think of the 2020 World Junior Championships. The entire US men’s team was made up of Russian boys. Laughter and sin, as they say.
Why did you choose Uzbekistan.
Valeri Malinin: There wasn’t much of a choice. Where they offered the necessary conditions, there we moved. There were no ice conditions, there was an ice arena with artificial ice, but it periodically didn’t work. Tanya and another Russian pair trained with Igor Ksenofontov in Pervouralsk. He had no problem with the conditions.
Did you advise Tatiana professionally during her career?
Valeri Malinin: In this matter, I trusted Igor Borisovich (Ksenofontov) because he was a very good specialist. Many Russian athletes came to him for consultations, even if they trained with other coaches.
Tatiana’s main victories happened at the age of 26—a respectable age for women’s single skating. How did it happen?
Valeri Malinin: I remember one of our conversations with Igor Borisovich. I ask him, “Why don’t you let her go to junior competitions? Doesn’t the competitive experience begin from there?” He always said that she was not ready, we had to wait. This energy was accumulated so that she could show herself at the right time.
Well, she did! What helped?
Valeri Malinin: First, her character. She is a very goal-oriented person. If she sets a task for herself, she will definitely complete it. When Tatiana moved to America, Igor Borisovich refused to coach there.
She studied everything, found out how much it costs to rent ice and what the conditions were, and said, “I will skate here, live here, and work here.” She set a goal and achieved it.
How did America come into your daughter’s life?
Valeri Malinin: They went to the training camp with the team. Tania was convinced that the results could be achieved in the United States after spending some time there. For skaters, the main thing is ice. And in Russia, there is not so much of it, so many use additional training.
At the end of their careers, Tatiana and her husband, Roman, coached each other. How did it happen?
Valeri Malinin: When Igor Borisovich (Ksenofontov) refused to remain a coach for health reasons and other personal reasons, he said, “Guys, I won’t live here; I’m not happy with this.” Not everyone likes life in the USA; besides, he is an old-school man.
Tania offered me to move, but my situation was also difficult. I answer her, “Tania, well, I can’t either.” So, there was one option left: to help each other as much as possible. Tatiana’s level of character and discipline allowed her to work independently at all.
After the end of her career, could Tatiana return to Russia?
Valeri Malinin: There were options for what to do next. One of them is to skate in the show. But this is a lot of travel, and living in different places is not very convenient for starting a family. Another option is to work as a coach, which I thought was right.
And in the USA, she was offered to become a coach, right?
Valeri Malinin: To stay there, it was necessary to get citizenship. There is a program in the United States that allows talented, promising people—actors, scientists, athletes—to obtain a passport. America invites them to live there and develop the country.
In general, they were welcomed in the USA. I also approved of that. In Russia… The time was awful then, you know. Nineties.
Would Tatiana also move to the UAS now?
Valeri Malinin: You see, the system of work in the States is different from ours. And I like that the athlete is more independent. We have accountability. For example, at our city sports school, we are accountable to the district, city, region. When I was the director of a sports school, I always reported documents to these authorities. Only documents. And when I asked for funds for development, they told me, “Find money yourself, we don’t have any.” But there was a lot of extra paperwork.
And in America, there is no such dependency. Yes, it is an expensive sport; it’s not free. But there is a so-called “freestyle.” Let’s say from 12 to 4 o’clock, the parent buys ice at an affordable price. Depending on your budget, you can purchase anything from 20 minutes to an hour. You can skate with a coach, or without a coach. No paperwork, no reporting.
If you, as a coach, work poorly, then your student will leave for another coach, and you will lose your salary. That’s all. Therefore, everyone there works conscientiously, and the skaters know what they want.
But there is another side to the coin. Because the standard of living is high, parents and children are spoiled. In the middle of the season, they can leave for a vacation in the Dominican Republic or the Maldives, and you can do nothing about it.
Have you been to the USA often?
Valeri Malinin: Before covid started, we used to go every year. My wife and I have green cards, so we moved freely. After all, it was necessary to help bring up Ilyushka. And then Lisa, when she was born.
Did you like America?
Valeri Malinin: It all depends on the standard of living and wealth. If you work well, then you will live well. And I haven’t communicated there with people with incomes below average. The coaches who live there feel good.
Did you attend local competitions? What interesting things have you seen?
Valeri Malinin: Yes, we have been to regional competitions. We walk along the hall and meet Sasha Kogan (Alexander Kogan, General Director of the FFKKR – Sport24), my best friend; we communicated when we were athletes and young coaches. We hugged. Ilyukha says to me, “Grandfather, where do you know him from?” In Russia, we rarely see each other, but in America, we met right away!
In general, there are a lot of our Soviet people at the competitions.
Was it immediately clear that Ilia would grow up into a champion?
Valeri Malinin: You know, everything was quite difficult with him. Starting with the fact that he’s a boy (smiles). He was an athletic child; he played football well. He generally liked playing sports. For general physical training, Tanya and Roma took him to gymnastics.
In figure skating, at first he did not want to work on the details. He would prefer to play football, but here he needs to make a spiral … It seemed that figure skating wasn’t his sport. It took a long time for Roma and Tanya to bring him up. I also used to come and help. But, I must admit, it was difficult. It got to the point that Tanya said, “We are finishing. I can’t do anything serious with him.” I said then, “Guys, it’s a boy.” It’s girls who need to be prepared for complex elements before the age of 14, because then comes the puberty period, the formation of the body, the center of gravity shifts, and the feeling of the skate and ice changes. And this is a boy! Be patient; he will start doing triples, and then wild horses won’t drag him away from skating.”
At what age did these difficulties appear?
Valeri Malinin: Everything was difficult until the age of 15. When he got triples, as I said, he got interested. At this age, boys just wake up and understand what they need.
What helped Ilia progress?
Valeri Malinin: He has an interesting personality trait. I remember we frightened him that he was not working well enough in training. We used to tell him, “Ilia, when you go to your competitions, there will be five boys, and the one who works well and trains well will win, and you will be the last.” He says, “No, I won’t be the last.” We say, “Well, how?” “You’ll see!” he says. The most intriguing thing is that he was always a winner or prizewinner in competitions.
For the next competition, the preparation was again difficult, and he said, “Well, I won’t be the last, you’ll see!” This feature is from his mother; if I want, I will do it.
He and his father once worked on a triple axel on the harness, and Ilia said then: “I’ll jump a quadruple one.” I like this determination he has to achieve everything, no matter what. I’m proud of him.
And he jumped it! The first in history. Was it some kind of secret preparation?
Valeri Malinin: There are no secrets. We had a conversation with Tanya on this topic. Colleagues call her, text, ask what they do so special. She answers simply, “We work the way we were taught in the Soviet Union.” That’s how Igor Borisovich taught her the technique: everything is the same, nothing is different. Plus, Ilia’s character inherited from his mother. When he began to achieve success, this only strengthened his desire for new achievements.
It turns out that the knowledge that Roma and Tanya received was transferred to the upbringing of Ilia. And there was nothing special—everything was how they were taught in the USSR. Ilia went through all this.
Coaches use different methods. It is clear that there is only one correct technique. In many ways, it is based on the work of our professor, Alexei Mishin. Later, maybe Eteri Tutberidze brought something, but not much.
Do you watch your grandson’s competition live? Some parents and grandparents are worried and will look at the results later.
Valeri Malinin: Of course, I watch. I’m a coach; I can’t refuse it. But before I was more worried; now I look more calmly, analyze, and look at where and what could be improved. Of course, there are mistakes; it happens that he falls. But I believe in him, so it’s interesting to watch.
Which competition Ilia took part in do you consider the best?
Valeri Malinin: The last Grand Prix Final. He made a slightly unfortunate mistake in the short program, but surprisingly did everything in the free program, with high quality. Roma went to the start with him, Tanya stayed with their daughter. After an unsuccessful short, Ilia told his father, “Don’t worry, I’ll do everything in the free program.”
Author’s note: The interview was recorded before Ilia became the US champion.
What was your thought when he did the quadruple axel for the first time?
Valeri Malinin: Oh, well, it immediately went viral! The guys worked and achieved. It’s good that it worked out. And I took it calmly.
Are quintuples real?
Valeri Malinin: Let’s not guess, because even performing quadruples is already a big load on the ligaments and muscles. God blesses that there was no harm done. Because even though he swaggers, sometimes he has small sprains; after all, quads are quads. Moreover, he is aiming for records; he wants to make seven quads.
I’m concerned about his health and want to avoid any problems. If health allows, then he will do it.
Is your granddaughter Lisa also doing figure skating?
Valeri Malinin: Yes. While Roma and Ilia are at competitions, Tanya is taking care of Lisa. But the girl also has character. Well, this is generally characteristic of figure skating, especially since it is very difficult to coach your own child.
And now Tanya says, “Dad, you’re right; although she is capable according to her age—more capable than Ilia was—now that I think about how much more nerves and everything else it will take, I don’t know if I can survive it all.”
It is easier to train someone else—they did something, did not do something, had some flaws, and you were obviously upset. But you came home, changed the situation, rebuilt, and rested psychologically. And when it’s your child, you coach them there, and when you come home, you coach them here anyway.
Last year, after winning a silver medal at the US Nationals, Ilia was not taken to the Olympics. Did you worry?
Valeri Malinin: Usually, it was different. In Russia, it happens that after the competition, a team of coaches gathers and decides who to send: the one who took the right place or the one who is more promising.
In the States, usually it’s different. Whatever you are – lame, sick, hunchbacked, if took a place you go to competitions. And then all of a sudden, such happened… That is, they gathered and began to decide. This is their decision. What can you do about it?
Valeri Malinin: It’s hard for me to judge. It’s their business.
Could Ilia perform well at the Olympics?
Valeri Malinin: You know, there is no such firm confidence. After all, he was a boy. Yes, a self-confident boy—he always says that he will win. But psychology is a complicated thing.
The Olympics are a serious competition. It was possible to send, but the person broke down, and after that, he lost heart. And here, on the contrary, after the non-getting to the Olympics, he said, “No, guys, I’ll prove it to you.” Everything that is done is for the best. Maybe that was right.
Ilia chose the nickname “Quad God” for himself. He even wears a hat with this inscription. Some fans in Russia think it’s too much.
Valeri Malinin: Americans are brought up differently. The Russian crosses himself before the start; the American chews gum. Do you understand?
In the USA, athletes are more relaxed, ours are more nervous. I remember from my own experience, after the performance at the Spartakiad, they gathered us together and awarded, praised, and scolded us. Scolded without a choice of words. The psychological pressure was great. Can you imagine the pressure at the national team level? Though maybe things have changed now.
It turns out that Ilia is more American in character than Russian?
Valeri Malinin: Yes. They are raised in an entirely different environment. Where do we usually bring up a child? Kindergarten and school are teams. Playgroun is also a team of people with its own set of rules. And in the USA, there is another team around, and the priorities are completely different.
In the USA, I have not seen children hanging out in the playground, playing. They are generally busy all the time. The bus takes them away in the morning, brings them back in the evening. Ilyushka left early because he was an athlete. But kids are always busy. I didn’t see children there left to their own devices.
Does he have Russian features?
Valeri Malinin: Determination, the desire to achieve results by any means necessary. It’s in Russian blood. No wonder that in the US junior team at one of the World Championships, three people had Russian roots. A lot of Russian families move there and get settled, and many children go in for figure skating there.
Of course, his success is the merit of his parents. Tanya is such a purposeful person that she, if she wants to, will definitely achieve it. She wanted him to become a good athlete, and she made every effort. If Tatyana had a different personality—less strong, weaker—nothing would have happened. She would follow Ilia’s lead when he wanted to play football instead of figure skating.
So he wanted to leave figure skating for football?
Valeri Malinin: Yeah, it happened. In conversation, at least. And Tanya said to him, “Listen, son. You think you won’t need to train there? They also demand it.” When he is uncomfortable, he tries to show his character: “You were harsh on me here; I will go to football.” No, my friend, that won’t do.
Do you think that if Tatyana and Roman had coached in Russia, they would have been able to achieve the same results with Ilia?
Valeri Malinin: There are certain factors in Russia. You need to be three heads above the others to make the national team. And train in Moscow or St. Petersburg.
It turns out that it is more difficult to break through in our country?
Valeri Malinin: To be honest, it’s more difficult. We have more athletes. My personal opinion is that it would be more difficult for both Tatiana and Ilia to break to the top in Russia.
Ilia has become popular now. They talk about him both in America and in Russia. How do you feel about the increased media attention?
Valeri Malinin: It always worries me. I tell my daughter, “Tanya, it worries me. They will praise the child too much, and that’s it; it often happens so.” And she says, “You know, dad, he doesn’t care.” He really doesn’t care. He lives in his own world, busy with himself.
As the grandfather of an innovative skater, don’t you think the quad axel should have a higher base value?
Valeri Malinin: As a grandfather, I wish it cost more. But don’t dwell on jumping. A good skater is a harmoniously developed skater. He must be able to do everything—jump, glide, and spin. We used to have only jumpers, there were those who had good spins or excellent gliding. Now we have a new judging system, and you need to do everything well.
Do you think that Ilia is still lacking in the second mark?
Valeri Malinin: Yes. This is his difficulty. I remember when he was small, we told him: “Hold your hands, hold your back.” But for a kid, it’s very hard. The girl is feminine by nature. And a boy is a boy. And he is forced to portray something.
Although he knew how to skate since childhood. After all, you can see what a child will be like: there are children who immediately feel the ice and balance; they get up and start skating. There are a few of them. Usually they stomp and stomp, and then they stomp for a long time. Ilia immediately started to skate.
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