2023 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Teen sensation Isabeau Levito rose to the occasion for a convincing win at the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif., on Friday night. Two-time champion Bradie Tennell continued her comeback to win the silver medal, while Amber Glenn fought demons to snag the bronze.
Levito delivered a whimsical and dramatic free skate set to “Dulcea Si Tandra Mea Fiara” by Catalina Caraus and Eugen Doga. Though telegraphed, the 2022-2023 Grand Prix Final silver medalist elegantly landed seven triple jumps, including her opening triple Lutz-triple loop combination and a triple Lutz-Euler-triple Salchow. She also managed level-four grading on all three spins and footwork with positive grades of execution (GOE) on all elements.
Continuing her dazzling season, Levito earned 149.55 points in the free skate for a total competition score of 223.33.
“I felt so proud to have achieved what I achieved, like my score and just overall, the placement that I am in now,” said Levito. “I was just very proud of myself for having collected myself and doing the program that I needed to do.”
“Going into this event, my entire goal for both programs was to stay composed,” she added. “I really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and try not to let little minor silly mistakes happen. I mean, it kind of sometimes just happens, but to really focus on staying in control and in my zone, I feel as though I did just that today.”
The 15-year-old from New Jersey was proud as punch that she did not succumb to errors as she has in other competitions earlier in the season.
“I feel as though this entire season I haven’t been my absolute best in my free skate,” said Levito. “I finally have skated my free skate the way I’ve been training and working towards this entire season. I actually can’t even find the word to describe it right now.”
Levito’s coach, Yulia Kuznetsova, was pleased that her pupil finally replicated her training onto competition ice for the first time this season. To Kuznetsova, the breakthrough will bring future harvest.
“She stepped on the ice and she was under control,” said Kuznetsova. “If you [have] self control, that’s going to set you up for the whole season. First competition of the year. New year, new Isabeau. New title that’s going to set you up for the future.”
In the last four weeks, Kuznetsova focused on readying Levito for the pressure of nationals, which, according to the coach’s observations, her pupil felt.
“We basically were preparing for her to have stressful days,” said Kuznetsova. “On stressful days, you have to come on out [to the rink].”
Levito started her championship campaign with a solid short program, landing all high-risk jumping elements, including her difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination with flare. Her flamenco routine earned 73.78 points.
However, Tennell, on her comeback to skating this season, did not hand the short program win to Levito easily. The two-time national champion trailed Levito by .02 points. Tennell performed her modern short program, which was highlighted by her triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, with panache. However, lost levels on her spins gave Levito the edge.
In her free skate set to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Tennell opened with her reliable triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination to kick off the charge with confidence. The two-time national champion landed three more triple jumps, but underrotated and stepped out of the back end of a double Axel-triple toe loop combination and doubled her second planned triple Lutz. She earned positive GOEs for her level-four spins and footwork sequence, and earned 139.36 in the free skate for a total competition score of 213.12.
In her first nationals since 2021, after multiple injuries took her out of the 2021-2022 season, the skate at the SAP Center marked Tennell’s return to domestic glory. Of her five medals at U.S. Nationals since 2018, Tennell’s silver in San Jose is sentimental to the skater.
“This one is very special to me,” she reflected. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again. So, to be here, and to have it and to have achieved it, especially after the start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome earlier this year, I’m very proud of what I accomplished here.”
Always a competitor, however, Tennell was quick to critique her performance.
“Obviously, I’m a little disappointed in my errors, but I think given how the season has gone and my road to competing again, I think I have a lot to be proud of and skating at Nationals again,” she said. “I was giving myself a pep talk earlier in the mirror, because that’s what I do. And I said to myself, ‘you dreamed of this for an entire year and now you’re here,’ and I told myself I wanted to go out there and I wanted to soak up every moment and be present, and I did that. Even with the mistakes, I’m really proud of myself.”
Glenn opened her haunting free skate to “Without You” by Ursine Vulpine and Annaca with a triple Axel which she rotated and landed, but stepped out on. Though the 2021 National silver medalist only managed a double Salchow and single Axel later in the program, but reeled off six more triples, including an exceptional triple flip-triple toe loop combination. Her spins and footwork were all graded as level four with positive GOEs. She scored 138.48 in the free skate to finish the competition with a total score of 207.44.
“I’m very happy with how I did,” said Glenn. “I’m disappointed with some of the mistakes I made on very silly minor things.”
For Glenn, who bombed in the short program last year, succumbing to COVID and withdrawing from the event, returning to nationals was especially meaningful. However, it was not without minefields, resulting in “mixed emotions.”
“It was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year, so it was just a big mental hurdle for me,” she said. “But I was happy. I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing and perform and feel connected to a crowd. It just gave me a sense of relief. I had so many waves of emotions and memories coming towards me on the ice and off the ice this entire week.”
Snagging the pewter medal with a determined free skate, Starr Andrews made history as the first African-American woman to land on the U.S. National podium since Debi Thomas in 1988. The 2022 Skate Canada silver medalist reeled off five triple jumps in her free skate set to “Je Suis Malade” by Lara Fabian.
“I’m honestly so happy that I got a medal today,” said Andrews on the milestone. “I mean, after I finished the program, I thought I messed it up, because I popped twice. To be able to be the next African-American woman to stand on the podium is amazing. I wish I had done better, but it’s still an amazing accomplishment.”
Andrews finished the competition with 188.24 points; 119.27 in the free skate. Her third-place performance in the short program helped balance the seventh-place free skate result.
“I’m honestly so happy that I got a medal today,” said Andrews. “After I finished the program, I thought I’d messed it up because I popped twice and I never pop. So I’m happy that I placed and I’m disappointed that I didn’t put out what I know I can do.”
Rounding out the top five in her senior competitive debut, 14-year-old Josephine Lee skated a spectacular free skate to “O Fortuna” and “In Trutina” by Carl Orff. It was jam-packed with six clean triple jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe loop combination. Lee’s only obvious error was an underrotated triple Lutz. The junior national bronze medalist from last year earned 132.08 in the free skate to finish the competition with 187.68 points, less than a point behind Andrews.
Shortly after the competition, U.S. Figure Skating announced that Levito, Tennell and Glenn will represent the United States at both the Four Continents Championships and World Championships.