Teen Isabeau Levito wins U.S. women’s figure skating title
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Graceful, brave and seemingly unfazed by the bright lights, 15-year-old Isabeau Levito decided to give her free skate a try while once again reminding herself to just keep calm.
It took the teen star a nearly flawless routine to win gold at the US Figure Skating Championships after Bradie Tennell’s beautiful performance minutes earlier.
Levito accomplished just that, posting a stunning 149.55 score for a 223.33 overall score to win her first women’s national title on Friday night.
“I was just really proud of myself for pulling myself together and doing the program that I had to do,” Levito said. “Going into this event my only goal for almost both programs was to keep my composure and really try to contain my nerves as much as possible to really not allow small, minor, silly mistakes.”
The New Jersey skater received a rousing standing ovation from an audience impressed by her poise under pressure on the major national team stage. She then clutched the medal in her gloved right hand and made the rounds of congratulations, hugs and photos.
“I can’t even find the word to describe it right now,” Levito said.
Then she smiled, scratched her chin and pleaded, “Just give me a minute.”
Two-time US Champion Tennell posted a 139.36 in the free skate and finished second with a total score of 213.12. She missed the entire 2021/22 season with foot and ankle injuries so the comeback meant so much to her.
“I didn’t think I would do it again,” Tennell said, calling this her most extraordinary national team to date and noting that she definitely plans to try it in the next Olympic cycle.
“When I was running again at Nationals, I made myself cheer up in the mirror earlier because that’s what I do,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘You’ve been dreaming about this for a year and now you’re here,’ and I said to myself, I wanted to get out of there and I wanted to absorb every moment and be present, and I did.”
Levito gracefully landed her Triple Lutz Half Loop Triple Salchow sequence and other most difficult jumps, captivating the crowd as the last skater of the night. She came into the freestyle, which Tennell led, after Thursday’s short program with just two-hundredths of a point.
Amber Glenn was third with 207.44. She put in an impressive 138.48 free skate that put her at the top, leaving the top three skaters from the short program.
Starr Andrews, a fan favorite after making her national team debut five years ago at the age of 16 on this San Jose ice, finished fourth with 188.24. She missed her scheduled triple flip early in her routine and was visibly disappointed after a freestyle that scored 119.27.
Her jaw dropped when the final result was announced.
“To be honest, I’m so happy that I got a medal today. After I finished the program, I thought I screwed up because I busted twice and never busted,” Andrews said. “In practice, I spin and fall. At least you get the points. It’s better to spin and fall than pop it. … They said 188, I was like, ‘Er, I’m second, there’s only two guys left, that means I’ll be fourth.’”
There’s certainly some nostalgia here for Andrews, who dazzled with a free skate set to her cover of Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” in her 2018 Senior Nationals debut at the SAP Center. She was third on Friday – just a hundredth of a point ahead of Glenn.
Glenn finished fourth on Friday after her 68.96 in the short program. The 2021 US silver medalist was forced to withdraw from last year’s event after testing positive for COVID-19.
Josephine Lee, who made her senior debut and was 11th after the short program, skated beautifully in the free skate event, posting a 132.08 and a total score of 187.68. She beamed afterwards when she heard her score on a night she delivered a triple flip double axel double toe loop sequence that was sure to impress the judges.
And reigning junior champion Clare Seo showed attitude and promise at 16 as one of the young skaters looking at this quad.
Levito, the reigning junior world champion who placed third in her senior debut last year, came out as the favorite to her first US title. She won silver in both Grand Prix events and the Grand Prix final last month.
It was a disappointing night for two-time national champion Gracie Gold. She put on one of her best short programs in recent memory to enter Friday’s freestyle in fifth place, only to miss a few of her scheduled threes. She won US titles in 2014 and ’16.
Earlier on Friday, another aspiring teenager shone. It was 18-year-old Ilia Malinin who posted a personal best of 110.36 in the men’s short program as he chased his first national title and led second-placed veteran Jason Brown by more than 10 points before entering Sunday’s free skate went.
Malinin finished second to Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen – now a mentor who supports the teen star – in his senior debut last year but was passed over in favor of the more experienced bay for the Olympic team.
This time, Brown appreciated chasing after the youngster and feeling the energy of the crowd.
“I’m very surprised how I managed to do that, especially because the whole beginning of the season didn’t go so well with all the short programs,” said Malinin. “I think we took the time and effort to look at all the bad things I’ve done just to take it all in to see what works best. We changed the program a bit and I think that also helped to achieve the performance.”
US Figure Skating announced Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio as the venue for the 2024 national teams.
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