Home Figure Skating News Keira Hilbelink: ‘Quad is a work in progress’

Keira Hilbelink: ‘Quad is a work in progress’

Repeat U.S. Junior silver medalist

by Paula Slater
Melanie Heaney/U.S. Figure Skating

Keira Hilbelink

Keira Hilbelink

This past season, Keira Hilbelink repeated a silver-medal win at the 2024 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. It proved to be a tight competition as there was a mere 3.78 points separating the first-place skater from the sixth-place skater after the short program.

“I did not expect to place in the top three after finishing sixth the short program,” said Hilbelink. “However, I had hopes on getting in the top five with the combined short and long program. Before I competed at the U.S. Nationals, I had nerves about the triple-triple. Once I landed it in the short, I felt a big relief and got more confidence going into the free skate.”

Sure enough, the 13-year-old put out a solid free skate, landing a triple flip-triple toe, along with five more triple jumps, to finish second in the free skate. With a total score of 173.88, she soared to second overall, improving her overall score by 5.89 from 2023.

This season, Hilbelink skated to “That Man” by Caro Emerald, choreographed by Sean Rabbitt, for the short program.

“The program came out very well and I loved skating to this piece of music,” she offered. “When I first heard the music, I liked the energy and felt that I would have a lot of fun skating to it.”

The choice for her free skate to “What A Wonderful World” by Lexi Walker and Piano Guys was decided by Karen Kwan, who choreographed the routine last year.

“I fell in love with this piece and decided to skate it again this season,” said Hilbelink. “I grew up listening to the original by Louis Armstrong and have always loved it. When I heard this version by Lexi Walker, I felt her voice matched my skating. I was happy I could skate to this song!”

First Steps and Christmas boxes

Hilbelink first ventured onto the ice at the tender age of two, though the details of those early experiences remain hazy in her memory. Nonetheless, one of her earliest ice shows left a lasting impression, evoking laughter whenever she remembers it.

“When we were young, my friend Annika, me, and all our sisters skated a group program for a Christmas show,” she recalled. “Anni and I were pushed out onto the ice in hidden in giant presents. As our sisters skated their portion, we couldn’t stay still in the boxes. The audience found it funny that the Christmas gifts were moving!”

Both her sisters, Tia (17) and Maile (15), compete as well, and Keira also looks up to Alyssa Liu and Karen Chen.

“I admire Alysa Liu’s energy on the ice, and how Karen Chen’s skating shows both grace and power,” Hilbelink explained of her role models. “I love both of their skating because they show so much passion for the sport!”

From Oregon to California

Hilbelink was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, to parents Le and Todd. Her mother is from Tay Ninh, Vietnam, while her father is from Ohio. She trained under Shannon Damiano across the river in Vancouver, Washington, from 2018 until 2021.

In 2020, she competed at the juvenile level at both the Northwest Pacific Regionals and Pacific Coast Sectionals where she finished fourth and third, respectively.

After training under Rabbitt for two weeks the family decided to relocate to Irvine to train with Ten80 International Figure Skating. Besides Rabbitt she works with Ten80 coaches Junichi Takemura, Kelly Takemura, and Garnet Fiordalisi.

“Keira’s progression is amazing, honestly!” Rabbitt said of his student. “It’s been really special to see her blossom through her technique and confidence on the ice over the past three years. Recently, we began working to develop her artistry and skating skills to help her become a more well-rounded skater.”

Keira Hilbelink

Keira Hilbelink at six years old

Looking ahead to 2024-25

Hilbelink has already chosen the music for both programs for the upcoming season. Her short program will be to “Mirage” by Lindsey Stirling, while the free skate is set to a variety of songs from the animated Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. Both routines were choreographed by Rabbitt and Mari Malama.

“I wanted a piece of music that was different in genre to step outside my comfort zone,” she said of her new short program. “I am so excited to show it and I love the way my choreographer put it together. For the free skate, it’s always been a big dream of mine to portray ‘Belle!'”

“I hope this year’s programs showcase the growth she’s had while still maintaining her youthfulness on the ice,” said Rabbitt. “Ae are not rushing Keira to be super mature on the ice, but instead showcasing constant growth into full maturity over the years. This will allow her to skate to pieces she enjoys and feels she connects with. I also hope this helps to allow her to develop into the skater she intends to become and enjoy the process and create longevity in this sport.”

The skater is currently working on improving all her jumps and has also been training the quad Salchow.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Hilbelink said of the quad. “I began training it on the harness at the end of December 2023 and started training it off the harness at the beginning of March. I have not decided on incorporating it yet, but I will continue to work towards achieving it.”

Meanwhile, she also wants to improve on other elements and gain consistency on her spins. Her favorite jumps are the triple loop, triple Lutz and quad Salchow. Her least favorite is the double Axel.

“I worry most about my triple-triples, but during my off-season, I have worked hard to improve not only my jump consistency, but overall skating quality,” she offered.

School and hobbies

Hilbelink attends Connection Middle School and is currently in the seventh grade. She is good friends with Cleo Park, the 2024 U.S. National Jr. bronze medalist, who also attends the same school. Her favorite subject is science.

“I like learning about the human body and its complex functions,” she explained. “I have no field of science in mind that I want to go to in the future. I just enjoy learning the subject in school.”

When not studying or training, Hilbelink likes spending time with her friends and family. She, along with her two sisters, understand Vietnamese, but her oldest sister is the one who “can speak, read, and write the best.”

“We like to bake and watch TV together often in our off time,” she shared. “I can’t bake. My sisters do the work while I do the eating!”

Hilbelink also enjoys reading fantasy books and traveling. She recently returned from a vacation in Italy with her family.

“When I went to Italy, I visited Rome, Florence, and Venice,” she said. “In Rome, I saw Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, which were both located in the Vatican City. I visited the Duomo in Florence and many shops when I was in Venice. I
toured the city of Venice on a gondola for the first time!”

Goals for 2024-25

One of the few lessons that Hilbelink has learned since last season is to trust her body and technique, especially during rough times.

“I am also learning to have fun in the process and my performances, and to not overthink the small problems,” she said. “Next season, I am planning to skate as a senior domestically and a junior internationally. I hope to make it to my first senior nationals in 2025.”

The skater also wants to improve her jump consistency and my performance in competition.

Hilbelink is currently planning on competing at the 2024 Skate Milwaukee in July, which will host the U.S. Junior Team Cup, in hopes for a JGP assignment.

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