Anna Shcherbakova leads figure skating worlds; Karen Chen in medal contention

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Russian national champion Anna Shcherbakova didn’t have a triple Axel, but she didn’t need one to take the lead at the world figure skating championships in Stockholm on Wednesday.

Shcherbakova skated clean, highlighted by a triple Lutz-triple loop combination, and tallied 81 points. She outscored two women who landed triple Axels — Japanese Rika Kihira (79.08) and Russian Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (78.86).

Americans Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell are in fourth and seventh, respectively. Chen has a chance to become the second U.S. female singles skater to earn an Olympic or world medal in the last 15 years (Ashley Wagner, 2016 silver).

Chen and Tennell’s results after Friday’s free skate must add up to no more than 13 (sixth and seventh place, for example) for the U.S. to earn the maximum three women’s singles spots at the 2022 Olympics.

Another ballyhooed Russian, 16-year-old Aleksandra Trusova, is 12th after struggling on her trademark — jumps — including failing to do a combination.

Worlds continue later Wednesday with the pairs’ short program.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | TV, Stream Schedule

Shcherbakova, a knitter who turns 17 on Sunday, looks to extend a reign. A Russian woman won skating’s biggest title every season dating to 2014.

“I miss full stands of people supporting you before the start and during the performance,” Shcherbakova said, according to the International Skating Union. “Maybe on this reason I was very nervous, but I understand why the restrictions are needed.”

Shcherbakova won the last three national titles and was among a trio to take the skating world by storm in the abbreviated 2019-20 season, combining to sweep the eight biggest international titles before the 2020 World Championships were canceled. Shcherbakova made headlines that autumn by winning after changing her costume mid-skate, then overcame pneumonia last autumn to continued success.

Shcherbakova, who is coached by Eteri Tutberidze, who guided 2018 Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, was pegged as the second- or third-best Russian last season. Aliona Kostornaya was the favorite, but, after contracting the coronavirus, did not make this season’s world team.

Trusova has a jumping arsenal — up to a handful of quadruple jumps, which are allowed in the free skate but not the short program — to outscore Shcherbakova. But her deficit — 16.18 points — may be too large to make up in the free skate.

Chen, a 2018 U.S. Olympian, is in fourth after a personal-best short that included a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. She scored 74.40 points skating to “Rise” by Katy Perry.

“That was the best I’ve ever seen Karen Chen skate,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said of Chen, who was third at January’s U.S. Championships but chosen for the world team over silver medalist Amber Glenn due to her recent body of work.

Chen, then 17, finished a surprising fourth at the 2017 Worlds to earn the U.S. three women’s spots at the 2018 Olympics, where she was 11th. Chen took the next season off after a stress fracture in her right foot and spent the 2019-20 campaign balancing skating with a pre-med track at Cornell. Now, she’s on a break from classes to focus on skating.

“[Cornell] also made me realize how much I love skating. I’m addicted to skating,” Chen said. “I know that as I get older, it’s definitely going to be more challenging. Now is the time to really pursue my skating goals.”

U.S. champion Tennell, the top American at the most recent Olympics and worlds, skated clean save doubling the back end of her planned triple-triple combination.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” Tennell said. “I’ve been skating clean programs every day since nationals [in January].”

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Isabeau Levito, 15, delivers in figure skating nationals short program as favorite

Isabeau Levito
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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.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

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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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 …

Women’s Short Program
1. Isabeau Levito — 73.78
2. Bradie Tennell — 73.76
3. Starr Andrews — 68.97
4. Amber Glenn — 68.96
5. Gracie Gold — 67.44
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 62.64
7. Clare Seo — 61.48
8. Ava Ziegler — 61.09
9. Audrey Shin — 60.76
10. Ting Cui — 57.11
11. Josephine Lee — 55.60
12. Lindsay Wang — 52.19
13. Sonja Hilmer — 51.16
14. Michelle Lee — 46.71
15. Gabriella Izzo — 45.73
16. Alexa Gasparotto — 45.00
17. Elsa Cheng — 44.36
18. Hanna Harrell — 42.84

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

Rhythm Dance
1. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 91.90
2. Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 81.40
3. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 78.18
4. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 77.37
5. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 76.23
6. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 75.91
7. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 75.52
8. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 73.91
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 72.80
10. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 69.05
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 68.53
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 52.59
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 50.88
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 48.28
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

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

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