“Malinin went for quadruple axel and it was completely underscored. The judges just spat in his face!” Interview with sport’s agent Ari Zakaryan
Interview with sport’s agent Ari Zakaryan. About this season, Ilia Malinin and World Championships.
source: Metaratings dd. 29 March by Viktor Majorov
The 2022/23 season in figure skating has ended. The last competitions of the year, the World Championships, was held in Japan, where local athletes dominated. Figure skaters from the Land of the Rising Sun won three out of four gold medals.
However, it was not without scandal. American figure skater with Russian roots, Ilia Malinin, performed a very powerful program: he became the first skater in the world to land a quadruple axel at the World Championships. But the judges placed the 18-year-old athlete only in third place. In an exclusive interview with Metaratings, Malinin’s agent Ari Zakaryan expressed his opinion on what happened, as well as summed up the season.
Ari, how would you characterize the past season in figure skating overall?
Ari Zakaryan: The season was interesting and eventful. There were ups and downs, but the final point – the World Championships – surprisingly turned out to be very interesting in terms of composition and level. Overall, figure skating is still alive.
Why “surprisingly”? Were you expecting it to be much worse?
Ari Zakaryan: A lot has been said on this subject. This is our second season in a row with such a unique situation. I was interested to see what would happen in the end. Especially since previous major competitions, such as the Junior World Championships in Canada, did not attract interest from the audience. Well it was also unclear how fans would perceive the event after Hanyu’s retirement. As it turned out, Japanese audiences are devoted to this sport.
What did you think of the level of the 2023 World Championships without Russians?
Ari Zakaryan: The level was very high in ice dance and men’s single skating. I have been coming to the championships every year since 1997, I missed only one event. And I can honestly say that the men’s performances at the World Championships were some of the best in history. Everyone had different interesting programs with different approaches. It was a real show on the ice. I also liked dances, although I understand less about them than other disciplines. In pairs, there were also good performances.
And what do you think about the level of performance of Russian skaters at domestic competitions?
Ari Zakaryan: This season, I didn’t follow Russian figure skating as closely because I was focused on working with Ilia Malinin. But I can say that the level was very high. In addition, I liked the organization of the season in Russia, and I welcome all the approaches that the Russian Figure Skating Federation has implemented. The federation even dressed the guys very well throughout the season.
This season was dominated by the Japanese school, with three gold medals at the World Championships. What made them so successful?
Ari Zakaryan: The success of the Japanese skaters was not surprising to me. Their figure skating has been improving since 2006. During this time, they have developed a strong training program for their skaters, which is supported professionally by the federation. The Japanese have not only produced top skaters but also have a decent “bench” in general. For example, there is Mao Shimada in juniors.
I was not surprised that Miura-Kihira won the pairs event. They have been consistently improving in recent years. As for Kaori Sakamoto’s victory, all the ladies were competing at a similar level. Nobody attempted quads, but the Japanese skater had powerful, fast skating, which was her main advantage, plus she had the support of the home crowd.
As I said, the men’s competition had a very high level. All the guys performed brilliantly. However, the nem’s event was the biggest disappointment of the season. There is no way to judge Malinin’s performance so low.
In your opinion, why were Malinin’s performances judged so low?
Ari Zakaryan: Firstly, I want to “thank” the smart guys, commentators, and figure skating experts. They almost not understand what it’s like to perform quadruple jumps, especially a quadruple axel. And they say that you need to learn how to skate, not to glide like Pinocchio. But I can answer: “A man who was born to crawl can’t fly.” Or in Malinin’s case, “A man who was born to fly can’t crawl.”
Humanity always strives for records, and athletes try to do things that will change their sports. Ilia performs outstanding jumps, but his quadruple axel is evaluated lower than a triple. This is absolute nonsense! I think that the next skater who will jump like that will appear only in 5 years. But if the rules and scores remain the same, then such people will not exist, and our sport will stop developing, as it happened in pair skating.
In your opinion, has pairs figure skating stopped developing?
Ari Zakaryan: At one point, there was a surge in quadruple throws, and most likely due to their traumatic nature, everything returned to what it was before. Even in 1983, Selezneva and Makarov were performing the same elements as today’s skaters. That is, pair skating has been stagnant for 40 years. Yes, there is progress, interesting programs appear, but the technical level has remained the same, with only a few variations of triple jumps added, and even then very rarely.
Perhaps this is why interest in pair skating is declining. In the days of Gordeeva and Grinkov, Underhill and Martini, people went to arenas for them, because it was a fireworks display. Now it’s completely different – audiences come to pairs performances as part of a general event.
Was it different at the World Championships in Japan?
Ari Zakaryan: The situation was somewhat different there, as the audience hoped that Miura and Kihira would become champions. And they rightfully won the gold medal.
So if Malinin continues to receive low scores, will figure skating stagnate?
Ari Zakaryan: If judges are currently assess quad axels poorly, then why jump them at all? Let’s just focus on skating, beautiful runs, and good lines. But then our sport will be different and will look more like the “Dancing on Ice” project.
I’m not saying that Ilia has tremendous potential in skating and could compete with the greatest Jason Brown. However, we have skaters who perform triple jumps perfectly, but are afraid to attempt quads. And Ilia is not afraid.
As soon as these skaters try to do a quad jump, in most cases, nothing works out, and their entire program falls apart. And I have not seen a single athlete who only does only triple jumps and dared to attempt quads and then skate the program cleanly. Perhaps only the Latvian Vasiljevs at the last World Championships managed to do so.
Is it really that difficult to perform quadruple jumps?
Ari Zakaryan: If you attempt at least one quadruple jump, then everything else becomes very difficult to skate. I say this as a former figure skater. The concentration is completely different. And Ilia went for his first quadruple, which was completely underrated. On the contrary, the judges even spat in his face – like, why are you sticking out?
And after the first quadruple, Malinin did five more quadruples and a sequence of a triple Lutz and Axel. Perhaps only 2-3 skaters in the world can do that. And it can only be the first element, the second and third are already problematic. Ilia performed this element at the very end. Professional figure skaters see and understand these things.
Yes, he needs to work on his skating, I agree. But let me say it again: quads are a completely different level of concentration. They say that Ilia skated poorly at other moments. But understand, at that moment on the ice, a skater’s mind is only focused on those jumps, those crazy elements. And when you try to show some smiles, edges, between those elements, that’s a different story. I hope the experts who judged the competitions at least once put on skates themselves. They should understand what it is and how difficult it is.
And I know that a Japanese spectator came to see with his own eyes a jump with four and a half turns. When people talk to their grandchildren about figure skating, they will talk about Malinin’s jumps. People won’t discuss who in 2022 at the Olympics in Beijing beautifully held the line and made beautiful step sequences, but they will discuss Sasha Trusova, who went for five quad jumps. And Anya Shcherbakova, who cleanly executed two quad lutzes.
Ilia realized the danger that he would be underscored, but still jumped that axel. In an interview, he said that he couldn’t not attempt that jump because he saw that the audience came, the audience was counting on his program. It’s like in the circus: the performer always wants to do the most difficult trick. For example, a quadruple backflip to please the audience. Ilia wanted to evoke the same emotions in the spectators. But the judges lowered his scores across all components.
Across all components?
Ari Zakaryan: Let’s put it this way, if there was some kind of scale for underestimation by judges, at the World Championships it would have been 10 out of 10. The judges didn’t care that a young 18-year-old boy was making history and pushing the sport in a different direction. And if they could punish him, then they punished him to the fullest extent possible. They tried to find everything, as if under a microscope, to lower his score.
Maybe it was because the championship was held in Japan, the home country of the winner Shoma Uno?
Ari Zakaryan: Here, I can’t say anything. Maybe it was their personal opinion. I don’t want to discuss other athletes in any way. I’m very happy for Uno, he’s a great athlete, the greatest champion, a hard worker. Cha Junhwan also showed excellent, outstanding skating. Well done, I take my hat off to their skating.
It’s just sad for Malinin. A person performed a quadruple Axel for the first time at the World Championships, and everyone looked at it as if nothing had happened.
And I’ll say this: I know that people all over the world were ready to discuss Malinin’s performance the next day. Personally, I spoke with most of the top global journalists and television channels, they were ready to cover it. I’m sure Ilia would have been in the news feed all over the world. This would have given our sport tremendous recognition among other people. The world was waiting and ready to report it on the highest channels and news feeds. But when he was evaluated so humiliatingly, everyone stopped talking about the performance.
Do you think that Malinin could have improved the image of figure skating?
Ari Zakaryan: Absolutely. This would have raised the image of figure skating to another level, which would have led to huge financial dividends. I am sure that many sponsors and large companies would have gotten involved and started investing in figure skating. But the World Championships passed, Ilia landed the jump, and the information bomb did not explode.
Unfortunately, the mathematicians at the judging table don’t look any further than their eyes or the ice rink. They don’t think that the next generation of skaters won’t develop. Sports evolve when someone sets a record. People always try to be the best and overcome themselves. And viewers pay even more attention to these sports.
For example, Alexander Ovechkin. The entire hockey world watches every Washington game when he plays because they want to see Sasha score. Everyone follows his race to Gretzky’s record. People watch the Capitals, go to the stadiums, even though the team apparently won’t make the playoffs. And Ovechkin himself doesn’t skate around as much as McDavid or others, but everyone still follows him. That’s roughly how I assess the situation with Ilia.
So, Malinin could have brought sponsors into figure skating?
Ari Zakaryan: Personally, I had three very serious companies ready to start investing specifically in figure skating. But after such horrible scores, they backed out of their intentions.
You know, I could describe the situation with Malinin differently. Imagine someone jumped on a eight floor building. After that, everyone started calling their friends, saying, “There’s a guy jumping on the eighth floor, come quickly!” This would be a great marketing move.
After all, an ordinary viewer who knows nothing about figure skating would say, “Yes, we’ve heard that an American with a Russian last name is performing a jump with four and a half turns.” They won’t discuss jumps forward or backward. These are the things that are very important for marketing. After all, the main sports slogan is “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” not “More Beautiful, Colorful, and with a Smile.”
Do you feel like you’re repeating history with Nathan Chen? After all, he also started getting high scores only towards the end of his career.
Ari Zakaryan: Yes, many people are talking about it. They think that we need to close ourselves off and start training the outside edge, inside edge, or something else. I laugh when I hear this. We have witnessed a unique story. The kind of technical skating that Ilia showed is unlikely to be repeated by anyone in the next 10 years.
Do you think people like Malinin appear once every ten years?
Ari Zakaryan: No, people like Ilia are born once every hundred years. And I say this not as his agent, but simply as a person who watches figure skating.
And at the end of his program, Ilia performed an acrobatic element on the choreographic sequence that I’m sure no one will be able to do. Yes, there are a couple of acrobats on the ice who do that, but Ilia became the first among figure skaters. Moreover, he inserted this element not at the beginning, but at the end of the program. And no one noticed it!
What is this element?
Ari Zakaryan: At the end of the program on the choreographic sequence, he made a twisted jump over a half-salto. There is no name for this element! Most likely, this element will be named after Malinin. I hope people will talk about it. And not just for publicity, but so that humanity knows that on such and such a day in such and such a year, a athlete with a Russian name performed an element that no one does.
Do you think this historic moment for figure skating is lost forever? Will Malinin be able to further complicate his program to create a “wow” effect again?
Ari Zakaryan: The entire figure skating establishment told him, “Dear boy, don’t stick out, don’t do quads. Instead, go and hide, and train the level of skating, the quality of transitions, the quality of footwork. Focus on that! Improve that!”
The message was: what Malinin is doing is not interesting to anyone. Everyone wants something else. He needs to skate the way most people skate. So, his future programs depend on his coaches. If we don’t see outstanding elements in his next competitions, there will be no need to explain why he simplified his program.
The next year, the World Championships will be held in Montreal. It’s close to the US, so unlike the World Championships in Japan, Malinin could become the main star of the event. Do you think that having the entire audience cheering for him will help Ilia? For example, the judges may not have thoughts of downgrading his scores and so on?
Ari Zakaryan: I don’t know. I will repeat again that I am not questioning the places of other skaters who performed well and deservedly took their places. I am challenging the fact that the quad axel was scored humiliatingly, with disdain and cynicism. Let’s see what the future holds for us.
Can we expect a quintuple jump from Ilia?
Ari Zakaryan: I can’t say right now because we don’t even have a value for that quintuple jump. I think Ilya can realistically jump this element. But whether he will perform it in the future is another question.
Related topics: Ari Zakarian, Ilia Malinin
Alena Kostornaia: “I hope that I will still have the opportunity to make a name for myself. I still believe that I have a long career ahead of me.
What an absolute joke! They brought down the points of the quad axel to get Hanyu out of competitive figure skating, so this is what you are dealing with now. And Shoma (the winner) was able to do multiple quads WITH an artistic program.
I notice in men and women’s disciplines, almost nobody ever asks of what the program was suppose to convey.
Only one contemporary skater whose programs are always talked about, her name is KAMILA VALIEVA!
I am shaking my head about Ari’s comments. Not everything should be about jumps and acrobatics. Hanyu sells out shows with 35 000 people watching him and fans aren’t going to watch him do acrobatics or only quads. Figure skating is more than that.
Also the stadium in Japan may be relatively full on a Saturday when there are chances for a gold medal but we are talking about the Tokyo area with tens of millions of people living there so it is normal that the audience looked good for one day. On the other days it was half empty including women’s free skate. But what matters a lot more are the TV ratings and they don’t look good even in Japan. Around 5% TV ratings compared to 15-16% before. The audiences are losing interest everywhere.
Zakarian didn’t complain about the base value of the 4A when Hanyu was attempting it even if he couldn’t land it. He doesn’t promote Malinin in the right way.
I laughed out loud about mentioning Chen having high scores towards only the end of his career – he was already a grossly overscored skater with a PCS of nearly 90 at age 17 in his first senior season…
BV for 4A should be higher. And GOE he Malinin received for it was ridiculous. No one should be surprised if he’s not motivated to jump it in future…
Is Ilia wickedly talented when it comes to jumping? Absolutely.
Is he already “there” with all the other aspects that make figure skating? No.
If the quads take so much concentration that an athlete can’t do much in terms of PCS, then maybe there should be fewer quads. It’s not called quad skating after all.
Faster, higher, stronger is a nice motto, but there are natural boundaries with the human body that make it impossible at some point to go faster or higher. You’ll never see anyone run the 100m in 5 seconds. You’ll never see anyone jump 3m high without a springboard. And that’s fine because no one should absolutely and completely wreck their body for a gold medal. There are limits and the nuances, the “who can bring it on day x”, that decides on who’s the winner are what keeps sports entertaining.
Go back to the 80s and 90s. No woman did quads back then, no man had 3 quads more than the other guys, the top skaters pretty much had the same technical abilities, and yet the Olympic competitions of 88, 92, 94, 98 were absolutely thrilling to watch. Because anything could happen. Has Mr Complain here ever considered the idea that maybe, just maybe, part of the reason why skating doesn’t attract big sponsors right now is that that particular thrill is gone?