Skaters’ ties to Detroit add local flavor to U.S. Championships

Detroit, Little Caesars Arena
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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – When Hannah Miller was warming up for her short program on Thursday night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she heard an assembly of recognizable voices.

“Cheesers! Clappies! Make it happen! You’re fantabulous! We love you!” the group chanted.

The voices Miller heard came from several of her teammates at the Lansing Skating Club, where she has trained most of her life. With nationals taking place just over an hour from the Lansing SC, it gave Miller’s teammates the opportunity to watch her skate on the national level in person.

What the group said to Miller was something they have all said to each other before competitions for about 12 years.

Around 15 people, Miller said, flocked to Little Caesars Arena – home of Detroit’s Red Wings in the NHL and Pistons in the NBA – in Detroit to cheer her on during her short program.

“It’s awesome,” Miller said. “My family has been so supportive throughout my entire career. I couldn’t have asked for a better location for nationals this year because they all get to come and watch and support. It’s a chance for my family and all my trainers and all my friends to come see what it’s really like to be in a national arena.”

But Miller isn’t alone.

MORE: Behind the scenes from Day 2 at the U.S. Championships

Numerous other skaters came to nationals with Michigan roots and were able to perform in front of countless family members and friends.

“It’s so nice to be home,” said pair skater Brian Johnson, a Farmington Hills, Michigan, native and member of the Detroit SC who trains in California. “I can’t describe it. I’m the kind of person who likes winter. I actually missed all the snow and stuff. I know it sounds crazy. I love the people. I just love being home.”

Not many of Johnson’s family and friends get to experience his performances in person. His mother has to watch most of his programs from afar but will occasionally get to watch him skate in person when she goes on work trips.

With his family and friends in the crowd watching him, Johnson feels less pressure at nationals this year.

“Most of my family is here; some came from Chicago,” he said. “All my friends are here. I would say it’s almost a little calmer.”

It’s been 25 years since Detroit last hosted nationals. Since then, Detroit underwent a city revival and constructed a multimillion-dollar arena to replace the decaying Joe Louis Arena.

“It’s cool to be in Detroit in this new facility,” said 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist Nathan Chen. “Little Caesars Arena is a really cool rink. It’s really cool to be here.”

For Lansing, Michigan, native Madison Hubbell, her extended family has rarely been able to see her skate live. She added that her uncle and cousin are obsessive sports fans.

“For them, Little Caesars Arena calls for celebration,” Hubbell said. “This big arena, we’re gonna do it the way these other sports do it. They called the arena, everyone’s confirmed that this is possible to do a tailgate. They’re arranging it and they’re doing it with Kaitlin Hawayek’s parents and Evan Bates’ parents.”

The tailgate will take place on Saturday before the free dance.

“I’m just hoping that [our families] actually make it to the event,” Hawayek joked.

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue lead ice dance field in pursuit of back-to-back titles

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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