"Ilia Can Change Figure Skating For The Better:" Zakarian About Malinin And The Season Results

Alisa Barladyan
19 Apr 2024

The 2023–24 figure skating season is almost over. All that is left are smaller competitions that don't usually feature top athletes. The next few months will be full of various commercial shows.

First of all, because of the legendary performance of Ilia Malinin, an American figure skater of Russian origin, at the world championship. Not only did Malinin win gold, but he also etched his name in history by demonstrating the most difficult program. Besides, the season has been packed with outstanding stories.

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Ilia Malinin and Ari Zakarian

Malinin's agent, Ari Zakarian, shared his emotions and told us what surprised him the most.

– Ari, Ilia Malinin had a fantastic skate at the world championship. Many believed he would become a world champion, but did you think he would set a new world record?

Ari Zakarian
Yes, I have expected that. The more I work with Ilia, the better I understand him. He is an amazingly unique person. I don't know if it is his genes or upbringing. Hopefully, there will be no injuries — then he will show unique things.

– Was he determined to set a record, or was his victory more important?

– I cannot ask Ilia about the record, but if he wants something, he can achieve it. He is a perfectionist.

Ilia Malinin
Ilia Malinin

– Malinin was ill before the championship and had injuries. Did he or his coaches want to make his program easier?

– I think Ilia makes most of his decisions himself; he is a big boy. His coaches can only suggest what to do and how to do it. When Ilia takes the ice, he can count only on himself. That's why I cannot say for sure.

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– What does this victory mean for the world of figure skating? Is it a new evolution stage?

– There has been a lot of hype around Ilia in the USA, though figure skating isn't as popular as before. His recognition is growing very quickly, even though he's only been in elite status for 18 months. Ilia moves forward, and I hope his victory will spark interest in figure skating worldwide. This is very good for the sport. The key point is to avoid mistakes and to keep moving in this direction.

– You say that his recognition has increased. Where? In Japan, the USA, or worldwide?

– In the USA, Ilia had a large number of press requests. The video of his victory was shown on many TV channels. There was a lot of talk about him in the country, and I believe all around the world. For me, his victory is a milestone because the payoff was tremendous. Of course, we haven't reached the Olympics yet, but the emotions were close.

– If Malinin's success continues, can figure skating become as popular in the USA as in Russia or Japan?

– That's what we're counting on that. I'm very positive about that. I think that Ilia can improve figure skating.

– Did American companies become more interested in Malinin after his victory? Have you received any offers?

Ari Zakarian
Not only American, but global ones. Yes, of course, we are in negotiations now. His victory has certainly benefited the current situation. There are many interesting offers, and we will gradually keep going. Now we are preparing Malinin's show on April 19 in Washington, DC.
Ilia Malinin
Ilia Malinin

– Will the show be held in the hockey arena?

– No, in another one. We don't go for 20,000-seat arenas, but I believe we'll get to that eventually.

– Have there been any extravagant offers from TV programs like "Late Night Show"? Malinin's striking appearance is an advantage.

– Yes, we are in some interesting negotiations. I don't want to get so far ahead, but we will move forward not only in terms of figure skating.

– Were there offers from any Hollywood companies?

– Negotiations are underway, and everything is on schedule. We will share the information as soon as we achieve the desired outcome.

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– In general, do you think the American figure skating school is rising?

– Well, in terms of results, but not in terms of recognition. Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates won the world championship for the second time, and Isabeau Levito captured silver. There hasn't been a dramatic rise yet; it's just beginning. I think Ilia has contributed a lot. His victory is an iconic event.

– In your opinion, will figure skaters try to make their programs more sophisticated after Malinin's victory? Or no one can keep up with Ilia?

– The guys are working hard. They are good athletes. I believe this world championship has discovered one more star — Mexican skater Donovan Carrillo. He's done a great job; he's a very gifted guy. I am sure we will hear about him next year. Mexico had nothing to show for itself, and I am glad they now have such a talented athlete.

Ari Zakarian
There is also a very skilled figure skater from Kazakhstan, Mikhail Shaidorov. I see a great deal of potential in him. I will also mention Aleksandr Selevko from Estonia, who has shown a balanced program.

Yuma Kagiyama is naturally also very talented. I think he will be our major competitor. And, of course, I should remember Adam Siao Him Fa. He demonstrated a brilliant program at the world championship and jumped from 19th place to the top. The competitors are serious, so we can't relax next year, only moving forward.

Adam Siao Him Fa
Adam Siao Him Fa

– Will the future see the most intense competition in men's figure skating?

– I think so. Next year, Kagiyama, for example, will greatly improve his technique in defeating Ilia. I believe that all of them will master the new elements.

– In your opinion, will everyone land quad Axels in the future? Will it get that complicated?

– I think so. Ilia has raised the bar so much that everyone understands that to compete with him, one must improve a lot.

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– Why has nobody used difficult jumps and elements before? Is it how the training process works, or no one needed such complex programs to win?

Ari Zakarian
People couldn't even imagine that such elements are possible. That was beyond belief. Now, we are trying to overcome these limits. I am sure that at least three athletes will land quintuples by 2030.

– Do you already see who may do that?

– Yes. I think that Kagiyama and young Russian boys can certainly master them.

– Who are these Russian boys, in your opinion?

– I like Arseniy Fedotov and Lev Lazarev. Dikidzhi is also very ambitious; he has teenage idealism. I think he may show us something exciting.

Vladislav Dikidzhi / Photo by fsrussia.ru
Vladislav Dikidzhi / Photo by fsrussia.ru

– Would they show something exciting if not for the suspension? Given the competition in men's skating, could they claim the top places?

– I have no idea. We need to see them competing with other athletes. It would be very difficult to get into the top three.

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– A year ago, Ilia's grandfather harshly commented that he would have hardly achieved such results if Ilia had represented Russia. Do you agree?

– I don't know, that's his grandfather's opinion. I cannot deny or confirm it because everything depends on the circumstances. As they say, it's complicated.

– Have Ilia ever thought about representing Russia, not the USA?

– We haven't discussed that. Ilia's rise in world figure skating happened during the pandemic, so it went as it went.

Ilia Malinin
Ilia Malinin

– Can Malinin become as popular as our female figure skaters, who have gathered huge ratings on television?

Ari Zakarian
The Russian audience is well-educated. The fans are well-versed in figure skating and probably keep track of Ilya's progress. We see a lot of congratulations from the Russians on social media. We are happy to read them.

– Will Malinin come to Russia with a show? Or is it hard because of the political situation?

– Ilia has a very tight schedule. Everyone is preparing for the Boston World Championship, so we are focused on the next year. Besides, there will soon be the Olympics. Ilia is a global skater, so everything goes according to his schedule. If the situation is more favorable, we will happily perform anywhere.

– Perhaps the Olympics is the main tournament for Ilia, and he will try to make his program as complicated as possible to ensure he becomes the best. Have you come up with any ideas?

– There is no specific information about what Ilya will show at the Olympics. But I believe that his Montreal performance is just the beginning. He hasn't reached his limit.

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– The current season was the second one without Russians. In your opinion, has the level of world competition dropped?

– I cannot answer this question. The skaters at world competitions are now exciting, with unique programs, and their audience is energized. The geography has become more global: Canada, the USA, Italy, Lithuania, France, the UK... Before, we mostly saw the Russians, the French, the Canadians, and the Americans.

Ari Zakarian
Stellato-Dudek has accomplished a feat in pair skating. I admire her achievements. Their skate was fascinating and skillful, at a very high level. Deanna hadn't practiced figure skating for 16 years! Five years ago, she restarted her career and became a world champion. This is an extraordinary and unique achievement and an excellent example for all of us. It once again proves that everything is possible. Deanna is special, and it's just amazing.
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps

In men's skating, we saw everything ourselves. I believe the level is extremely high. As for women's skating, we need them to participate to know how our girls would compete. Then we can say something. For example, Ilia landed 8 quads last year, including a quadruple Axel, but took only third place.

Nowadays, jumps don't decide everything. A lot depends on the program, the choreography, the skates' quality, and the jump exits. Before, jumps used to decide everything, but the sport has changed tremendously under the current judging system. We don't know how Russian athletes would have skated under the new rules.

– If you have watched Russian competitions, were these rules adapted, or is everything as before?

– Well, if you look at the Russian points, about 10 guys would be at least in the top 10 of the world championship. Judging by the points they received, they would all be in the top 10.

– The two-year suspension is a negative factor for our figure skating, isn't it? Do you feel that other schools will develop more than the Russian one?

– Perhaps, but on the other hand, there is so much going on in Russia! Every day, something happens in different regions. All our guys are performing and making money. They have a great life. We can't complain. The guys can now compete a lot, and I know they earn good money.

– Don't you feel the Russian athletes' danger level has decreased due to the suspension?

Everything is relative. We will see when figure skaters compete. All I can say is that a lot is happening in Russia now. There are different competitions and shows almost every week. I think the competition in Russia is also quite serious.

– As for the Valieva scandal, how was it received in the USA? Do people sympathize with Kamila and Eteri or condemn them?

– I think that everyone looks at this situation differently. I cannot say anything for sure.

– You mentioned Deanna Stellato-Dudek, who returned to figure skating after 16 years. Valieva will be disqualified for four years and will not return until the Olympics start. Can the Canadian skater's story inspire Kamila?

– Anything is possible. It all depends on the person and their character. There have been many comebacks, so I can't be sure. In Valiyeva's situation, everything depends on her.

– You said there would be a spectacular men's figure skating competition next year. In general, do you think that next year will be more interesting than this one?

I believe it will be 30 percent more interesting, if not more. Firstly, the world championship will be held in Boston, and according to reports, the tickets sell well.

Ari Zakarian
Secondly, Ilia has contributed to the growth of interest in figure skating. I believe he will show much more in the media this year—and not only there. That will be a big indicator, too. In general, before the home championship and the Olympics, figure skating will be on the rise in the USA.

In conclusion, I would like to express my condolences to all those who suffered from the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack. That was a terrible catastrophe. I wish these people recover and condemn all such actions. This should not happen in the modern world.

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