Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old favorite, delivered in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships short program, taking the lead into Friday’s free skate.
Levito, third in her senior nationals debut last year, tallied 73.78 points in a clean short on Thursday in San Jose, California.
She edged the comebacking two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell by two hundredths of a point. Starr Andrews was third, one hundredth ahead of Amber Glenn and 1.53 points ahead of Gracie Gold.
A committee selects the three-woman team for worlds shortly after the free skate.
“I was kind of aiming for this placement,” Levito said on USA Network.
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Levito, a New Jersey native who started skating at 3 and a half and has been with the same coach since age 4, developed a steely reputation as a competitor. That mixes with her artistic comparisons to 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen and her inspiration, Johnny Weir. She hasn’t missed a podium at a competition she has completed at any level since November 2016.
It’s seemed like Levito has been destined to be the leading U.S. woman in the 2026 Olympic cycle, leading up to the Winter Games in her mom’s hometown of Milan. She was too young for last year’s Olympics, but would have just missed the team had she been age-eligible.
None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians are competing this season — Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired; Karen Chen is studying at Cornell — paving the way for Levito to ascend.
That she did, winning April’s junior worlds to become the first U.S. woman to win a global title — junior or senior — since 2008.
Then this past fall, Levito placed second in her first two senior Grand Prix starts, then placed a surprising second at December’s Grand Prix Final, which gathered the world’s top six women from across the series.
Granted, the Final was her lowest point total of her five international events this season. All six skaters had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.
Levito ranks fifth in the world by best total score this season, fourth among seniors and a whopping 18.13 points better than the No. 2 American. Note the absence of Russia, which has dominated women’s skating for the last decade.
Levito won’t be worrying about her international standing while sitting on an overnight lead. She has work left in Friday’s free skate to win what could be the first in a series of national titles.
Tennell, 24, had her best short program since coming back from a 19-month competition break due to foot and ankle injuries. She was unable to defend her national title last year, ruling her out of Olympic contention.
“Even just making it back onto the ice again was a struggle,” Tennell said while in the arena where she made her Olympic team in 2018. “I stepped on the ice today and I looked up and I closed my eyes and I took a deep breath, and I was like, ‘You can do this,’ which is the exact same thing I did five years ago.”
Andrews, 21, is coming off a fall Grand Prix Series where she became the first Black U.S. skater to win a medal on the circuit.
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