American sensation Ilia Malinin, 18, flawless on opening night of Skate America

American figure skater Ilia Malinin began his Grand Prix season at the top of the standings at Skate America. He began the defence of his title with a brilliant short program Friday night to put a huge gap between himself and the rest of the field.

Canada's Lia Pereira, Trennt Michaud sit 2nd after pairs short program

A male figure skater spins through the air during a competition as spectators clap their hands while watching from the stands behind him.
American figure skater Ilia Malinin competes in the men's short program at the Skate America Grand Prix event on Friday in Allen, Texas. (Roger Steinman/The Associated Press)

American figure skater Ilia Malinin began his Grand Prix season in a familiar place.

Right at the top of the standings at Skate America.

The 18-year-old from Fairfax, Virginia, began the defence of his title with a brilliant short program Friday night to put a huge gap between himself and the rest of the field. Malinin was flawless on his three jump sequences, including a difficult quad lutz-triple toe combination, to score 104.06 points and earn a huge ovation at Credit Union of Texas Event Center in Allen, Texas.

Kevin Aymoz of France was second with 97.34 points and Shun Sato of Japan third with 91.61 points.

"I mean, I'm still kind of in shock. I was not expecting that," said Malinin, who won both of his Grand Prix assignments in his senior debut last season. "Of course I was really prepared and in that zone. I was really glad I was able to do it."

Toronto's Stephen Gogolev was seventh with 74.73 points.

WATCH | Malinin leads after scoring 104.06 points in short program: 

Ilia Malinin leads after men's short at Skate America

7 months ago
Duration 6:22
Ilia Malinin of the United States leads with a score of 104.06 after the short program at Skate America in Allen, Texas.

In the pairs competition, Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel of Germany overcame her fall on the side-by-side triple salchow to score 63.59 points and take a slim lead over Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud of Canada.

In the pairs competition, Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel of Germany overcame her fall on the side-by-side triple salchow to score 63.59 points and take a slim lead over Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud of Canada.

The competition resumes Saturday with the men's and pairs free skates, the rhythm dance and the women's short program.

WATCH | Canada's Pereira, Michaud sit 2nd in pairs competition:

Canada's Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud sit in 2nd after pairs short program at Skate America

7 months ago
Duration 5:46
Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud sit in second place after the short program scoring 63.33 at Skate American in Allen, Texas Friday.

Malinin, the self-styled "quadg0d" on social media for his incredible leaping ability, spent most of the off-season working hard on his artistry. But the world bronze medalist showed Friday night that he can still do the jumps with uncanny ease.

Malinin began his short program, set to "Malaguena" by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, with a quad toe loop in which he spun so fast he was a blur. Then came the quad lutz, the second-hardest jump behind the quad axel, and Malinin combined it with a triple toe loop to drive up his score. His triple axel looked easy given he is perfectly capable of doing a quad.

Oh, and he finished with his signature "Raspberry Twist," a trick that he designed.

"I mean, it's really a lot of fun for me to do," said Malinin, one of the early favourites for the 2026 Winter Olympics, "especially in front of a crowd like that, to watch all those unique tricks I have to put out in a unique way."

WATCH | Full replay of men's short program: 

Skate America: Men's short program

7 months ago
Duration 1:38:04
Watch the men's short program at Skate America from Allen, Texas.

The question now is whether Malinin will try the quad axel in Saturday night's free skate. The first to ever land the jump in competition showed it off in practice this week, but Malinin indicated he might keep the quad axel shelved so he can ensure a solid finish — ideally, a victory — that would help him earn enough points to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

"I'm mainly focused on a solid theme program," Malinin said, "but the Final, I may add it in there."

Hocke and Kunkel have already had a busy season pairs season, the Germans finishing second at the Shanghai Trophy and third at the Nebelhorn Trophy and Lombardia Trophy, a pair of lower-tier Challenger Series events.

WATCH | Germany's Hocke, Kunkel score 63.59 points in pairs short program:

Germany's Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel lead after pairs short program at Skate America

7 months ago
Duration 5:52
Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel of Germany scored 63.59 after the pairs short program, and sit on top of the leaderboard at Skate America in Allen, Texas.

Pereira of Milton, Ont., and Michaud of Brantford, Ont., were behind them with 63.22 points. Chelsea Liu and Balasz Nagy of the U.S. were third with 61.23 points, and fellow American pairs team Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard fourth with 52.92 for their short program.

"We're in our fourth competition, so it feels like the middle of the season," Hocke said. "We had one obvious big mistake — I fell on the sal — so that's something we're not happy about, but the rest we can be pretty proud of."

Watch live coverage of Skate America on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Coverage continues Saturday at 3:03 p.m. ET with the rhythm dance, featuring Canadian ice dancers Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha.

WATCH | Full replay of pairs short program:

Skate America: Pairs short program

7 months ago
Duration 1:01:19
Watch the pairs short program at Skate America from Allen, Texas.

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