Starr Andrews, 17, could be a figure skating star in the making

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As Starr Andrews struck the final pose of her free skate at the U.S. Championships this January, and the whole of the SAP Center in San Jose rose to its feet in approval, Tara Lipinski couldn’t help herself on the NBC broadcast. “This is our future!” she declared. “It’s so great to see a little junior come out as a senior skater and skate a program like that.”

“She’s blown the roof off this building,” Johnny Weir added.

Some nine months later Andrews, now 17, is making her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America this coming weekend in Everett, Wash., and while she’s still little – she stands just 4 feet, 11 inches – she’s fully a senior competitor. And with senior expectations.

“I want to be in Beijing in 2022,” she told NBCSports.com in a recent phone interview. “Even though it’s far away, it’s in the back of my mind. But I’m focusing on what’s in front of me this season.”

That first means Skate America, but then also Skate Canada, which Andrews was extended an invitation to last minute. That means she’ll skate back-to-back weekends on the Grand Prix circuit, rare for any skater – especially one in her debut season.

“We know what we want to do down the road, but we take it one event at a time,” said her coach of five years, Derrick Delmore, a former world junior champion. “We debrief, re-evaluate and re-asses what has happened and where we’re going and then take it from there.”

That means the next two weeks are big ones for Andrews, who is based in the Los Angeles area and trains with Delmore at two separate rinks, one which includes standout American Mariah Bell and one of the best Japanese skaters in the world, Marin Honda.

Delmore doesn’t hesitate when he talks about goals for 2018-19 for his star pupil, however, saying that the U.S. Championships (where she was sixth this past season) is their target for now, then the world championships to follow.

Andrews would most likely have to finish in the top two in Detroit in late January to make that trip to Japan a reality.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, Andrews is already one of the most-watched skaters in the world thanks to a 2010 video of her – at age 9 – skating to “Whip My Hair”, dressed in fluorescent pink and (eventually) garnering some 54 million views on YouTube.

But eight years later Andrews is a much more mature presence on the ice, though she and Delmore – and her mom, Toshawa, who acts as a manager of sorts – have worked to keep her personality unique and different on the ice.

“She has this joyful, playful demeanor. She’s goofy,” offers Delmore. “She’s a breath of fresh air in that way, and we try and let that show in her skating.”

While Andrews wanted to skate to music from the movie “Black Panther” for her free skate this season, Delmore instead found a mix of music that includes “Africa Tribal Xotica” and has what Delmore describes as a “jungle theme” to it. It’s a program that does not include any lyrics, which excites Andrews, who last year sang vocals in her free skate to Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”

“It’s something completely different,” Andrews says. “I was super excited when I got it. It still tells a story. I want to show people what I’ve been working on through that choreography.”

Andrews is hardly the first black skater to compete at the international level, but figure skating is still a sport that has very few minority athletes outside of a strong Japanese contingent. In the U.S., Debi Thomas was a two-time national champion, world champ and 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, while Delmore – as mentioned – was a successful junior.

“For me, she’s just like every other young kid who wants to experience this sport,” says her mom, Toshawa. “While she’s African American, I don’t think it bothers her or makes her feel less than. She skates for herself.”

This past summer Andrews visited the famed New York non-profit, Figure Skating in Harlem, which services young girls of color, and Toshawa said her daughter’s presence sent ripples through the camp: The youngsters had not seen a skater of color with Andrews’ pedigree. Toshawa was moved to near tears at the connection between Starr and the program’s members.

“I want to bring more people like me to the sport,” Andrews says, pausing to reflect on what sort of impact she wants to have on the sport. “There’s not a lot of skaters of color. I want to bring a different look.

Separately, she adds: “I want to bring a beauty back into skating, too. It’s not just about the jumps.”

Speaking of jumps, however, Andrews is one of the few women in the world to attempt a triple Axel, an element she and Delmore will consider using this weekend and moving forward. While she is “so, so close” in practice, Delmore says, she works off ice on conditioning with a local trainer in Southern California, Tyler Poor, often in the swimming pool or on the elliptical. She takes ballet once a week.

It’s a pivotal moment in the U.S. scene for the American ladies: Three-time American winner Ashley Wagner’s future is up in the air, while fellow former U.S. champ Gracie Gold is attempting a comeback from stepping away for personal reasons. Mirai Nagasu is not competing this season, and while Bradie Tennell is the reigning champ, there is no clear favorite moving into this season.

While Andrews has a ways to climb to be a title contender, her statement of intent for Beijing 2022 is heard loud and clear. She’ll still only be just 20 years old.

“I’m in for whatever she wants,” says Toshawa. “I am the one in the background encouraging her. I’m not pushing her to do any of this, but kids have to be guided. … I’ve taught her to never look at anything like you’re losing – you’re always just learning. You take something from every opportunity and experience and you grow from that. It’s never a loss. And you always compete only against yourself.”

This weekend Andrews will also compete against some of the best in the world, including Honda, Tennell, Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto.

Andrews names her personal heroes as her mom and Delmore, who she says have been with her to “lift her up when [she’s] not doing well.

And when she thinks back to that viral video some eight years ago, it’s outright incredible that she’s developed into the elite skater that she has – Willow Smith included or not.

“I think my younger self would be proud of me,” she says, smiling through the phone. “It makes me think of the movies when a character closes her eyes and sees herself in the future. It feels like that. When I was little, I would watch skating and now I’m at that level, it feels so cool to be where I am now.”

And where does she go next? That’s for all of us to watch and see this weekend – and beyond.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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More: How to watch Skate America

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier top pairs’ short at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier lead after the pairs’ short program in what may be their last U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Knierim and Frazier, who last March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, tallied 81.96 points to open the four-day nationals on Thursday.

They lead by 15.1 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe going into Saturday’s free skate in San Jose, California. The top three teams from last year’s event — which Knierim and Frazier missed due to him contracting COVID-19 — are no longer competing together.

After nationals, a committee selects three U.S. pairs for March’s world championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Before the fall Grand Prix Series, the 31-year-old Knierim said this will probably be their last season competing together, though the pair also thought they were done last spring. They don’t expect to make a final decision until after a Stars on Ice tour this spring.

“I don’t like to just put it out there and say it is the last or not going to be the last because life just has that way of throwing curveballs, and you just never know,” Frazier said this month. “But I would say that this is the first nationals where I’m going to go in really trying to soak up every second as if it is my last because you just don’t know.”

Knierim is going for a fifth U.S. title, which would tie the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka Ina, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Karol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Knierim is also trying to become the first female pairs’ skater in her 30s to win a national title since 1993. Knierim and ice dancer Madison Chock are trying to become the first female skaters in their 30s to win a U.S. title in any discipline since 1995.

After being unable to defend their 2021 U.S. title last year, Knierim and Frazier reeled off a series of historic results in what had long been the country’s weakest discipline.

They successfully petitioned for an Olympic spot and placed sixth at the Games, best for a U.S. pair since 2002. They considered retirement after their world title, which was won without the top five teams from the Olympics in attendance. They returned in part to compete as world champions and to give back to U.S. skating, helping set up younger pairs for success.

They became the first U.S. pair to win two Grand Prix Series events, then in December became the first U.S. pair to make a Grand Prix Final podium (second place). The world’s top pairs were absent; Russians banned due to the war in Ukraine and Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China leaving competition ice (for now).

Knierim and Frazier’s real test isn’t nationals. It’s worlds, where they will likely be the underdog to home favorites Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who edged the Americans by 1.3 points in the closest Grand Prix Final pairs’ competition in 12 years.

Nationals continue with the rhythm dance and women’s short program later Thursday.

NBC Sports’ Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Full scores and results from the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose …

Pairs Short Program
1. Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 81.96
2. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 66.86
3. Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea —- 65.75
4. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 63.45
5. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 63.12
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 56.96
7. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 50.72
8. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 46.96
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 46.81
10. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 45.27
11. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 43.99

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

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