Isabeau Levito digs out final piece of U.S. gold rush at World Junior skating

ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships - Tallinn
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One after another, the final four skaters in the women’s free skate at the World Junior Championships performed with assurance and compelling quality, brightening the end of a long and muddled figure skating season.

All did clean programs, the best by surprising Jia Shin of South Korea, who won the free and nearly upset favored Isabeau Levito of the United States for the title Sunday in Tallinn, Estonia.

Levito, gritting her way through the free and getting some benefit of the doubt from the judges, held on by just 0.54 points to become the first U.S. woman atop the world junior podium since Rachael Flatt in 2008. Compatriot Lindsay Thorngren earned the bronze.

Levito’s gold medal, following those in ice dance by brother-sister team Oona and Gage Brown and in men’s singles by Ilia Malinin, gave Team USA three of the four world junior titles for the first time since 2008.

“We put in all the work in our training, so when we get to the competition, we’re really just collecting our scores and our medals,” Levito said. “Our medal is just a reflection on our training and how we did with our nerves.”

She totaled 206.55 to 206.01 for Shin and 199.42 for Thorngren.

The strong U.S. showing came in a season beset again by Covid complications – the world juniors were cancelled in 2021 and moved and postponed five weeks this year because of the pandemic. This season was further disarrayed by things Russian, first a still unresolved doping case revealed during the Olympics and then bans on Russian skaters after their country’s unprovoked and ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Russian women had won the previous four world junior titles and nine of the previous 10. The most recent Russian winner (2020) was Kamila Valieva, who had been the leading senior woman in the world this season before the revelation before the Olympic women’s singles competition of her positive doping control from a Dec. 25 test. Valieva staggered to fourth at the Olympics after winning the short program.

Levito, 15, battled herself after taking a lead of more than three points over Shin into the free skate. Two of her final three jump combinations were problematic, but she emerged with positive grades of execution on them and finished the program with two strong spins.

“I just focused one element at a time until the music ended,” Levito said.

Asked if she had been more nervous than she expected, Levito said, “I think so, yes. I try to think what I will be feeling but you can’t really know how you are going to feel until it’s really happening.”

Component scores in the short and free programs provided Levito a 3.49-point advantage over Shin.

Shin, who turned 14 less than a month ago (no one in the event was younger), bettered her free skate personal best by 14 points. She is the second South Korean to win a world junior medal, joining Yuna Kim, gold medalist in 2006 and silver medalist in 2005.

South Koreans Ahsun Yun and Seoyeong Wi were fourth and fifth. Yun, part of the fab final four, crushed her old career best by 17 points.

Levito, who finished third in the senior event at this year’s U.S. Championships, was unsure about whether she would move up to the senior level internationally next season.

“It’s a little bit of a mystery,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier win U.S. figure skating pairs’ title in possible final nationals

Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier
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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier haven’t decided if they’ll compete beyond this season, so Saturday may have been their farewell to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

If so, they went out as dominant winners, the first pair in their 30s to win nationals in more than 50 years.

Knierim, 31, and Frazier, 30, took their second U.S. title together, totaling 227.97 points to prevail by 31.11 over Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. They led by a gaping 15.1 points after Thursday’s short.

Knierim and Frazier were solid after errors on their opening jumping combination in Saturday’s free skate. They broke their own pairs’ margin of victory record from the 2021 U.S. Championships under a scoring system implemented in 2006. Knierim appeared to wipe away tears backstage.

“As I get older, the longer I’m in this sport, the more gratitude I have for it,” Knierim, the oldest woman to win a U.S. figure skating title since 1995 (Renée Roca), said on USA Network. “After that music ended, I’m just thankful that Brandon’s by my side and I’m able to do what I love.”

Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea bagged bronze to likely round out the three-pair team for March’s world championships.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Knierim and Frazier considered retiring after last season, after they missed nationals due to Frazier’s COVID-19, petitioned onto the Olympic team and posted the best Olympic finish for a U.S. pair (sixth) in 20 years.

They then became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979, beating a field that didn’t include any of the top five from the Olympics.

They returned in part to compete as world champions and rank second in the world this season (during which the top Olympic pairs also haven’t competed). They will likely go into March’s worlds in Japan as underdogs to Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who won their lone head-to-head this past fall at the Grand Prix Final.

Back in October, 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.

“This U.S. Championships for us was extra special because you’re just reflecting on the journey, and you know that there’s a good chance that this will be your last one,” Frazier said.

Knierim won her fifth U.S. title, tying the record for a pairs’ skater since World War II, joining Kyoka InaTai BabiloniaRandy GardnerKarol Kennedy and Peter Kennedy. Knierim’s first three titles, and her first Olympics in 2018, were with husband Chris, who retired in 2020.

Silver medalists Chan and Howe continued their recent surge. After placing fourth at last season’s nationals, they rank sixth in the world this season. That’s despite summer injuries that left them unable to practice lifts (his shoulder) and throws (her foot) for a while.

Kam, 18, and O’Shea, 31, made the podium four months after becoming a pair and less than two months after a car Kim was riding in was hit by a drunk driver while crossing an intersection. The car was totaled, but Kim and O’Shea still competed days later in Croatia.

O’Shea won the 2016 U.S. title with Tarah Kayne, retired after they split in late 2020, then came back in 2021 with Chelsea Liu. They ranked sixth in the U.S. going into 2022 Nationals, but withdrew beforehand due to concussions both suffered in a November competition fall, according to Figure Skaters Online.

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

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2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships scores, results

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

Women
Gold: Isabeau Levito — 223.33
Silver: Bradie Tennell — 213.12
Bronze: Amber Glenn — 207.44
4. Starr Andrews — 188.24
5. Josephine Lee — 187.68
6. Lindsay Thorngren — 187.19
7. Clare Seo — 175.60
8. Gracie Gold — 173.98
9. Ava Ziegler — 167.70
10. Sonja Hilmer — 166.49
11. Gabriella Izzo — 166.40
12. Ting Cui — 161.27
13. Audrey Shin — 161.12
14. Lindsay Wang — 154.91
15. Michelle Lee — 145.28
16. Elsa Cheng — 138.13
17. Alexa Gasparotto — 129.41
WD. Hanna Harrell

Men’s Short Program
1. Ilia Malinin — 110.36
2. Jason Brown — 100.25
3. Tomoki Hiwatashi — 85.43
4. Liam Kapeikis — 82.27
5. Andrew Torgashev — 78.78
6. Maxim Naumov — 77.71
7. Jimmy Ma — 73.88
8. Goku Endo — 73.45
9. Samuel Mindra — 71.36
10. Yaroslav Paniot — 70.87
11. Camden Pulkinen — 69.47
12. Matthew Nielsen — 67.98
13. Joonsoo Kim — 67.45
14. Daniel Martynov — 64.04
15. Will Annis — 63.46
16. Dinh Tran — 60.63
17. Mitchell Friess — 59.14
18. Joseph Klein — 58.38

Pairs
Gold: Alexa Knierim/Brandon Frazier — 227.97
Silver: Emily Chan/Spencer Howe — 196.86

Bronze: Ellie Kam/Danny O’Shea — 184.01
4. Sonia Baram/Danil Tioumentsev —- 179.08
5. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez — 176.34
6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay —- 172.74
7. Maria Mokhova/Ivan Mokhov —- 148.84
8. Nica Digerness/Mark Sadusky — 137.98
9. Grace Hanns / Danny Neudecker — 135.30
10. Nina Ouellette/Rique Newby-Estrella — 132.07
11. Linzy Fitzpatrick/Keyton Bearinger — 129.80

Ice Dance
Gold: Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 229.75
Silver: Caroline Green/Michael Parsons — 207.46
Bronze: Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 198.45
4. Emilea Zingas/Vadym Kolesnik — 198.13
5. Emily Bratti/Ian Somerville — 189.84
6. Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov — 189.15
7. Katarina Wolfkostin/Jeffrey Chen — 183.05
8. Eva Pate/Logan Bye — 182.61
9. Oona Brown/Gage Brown — 181.89
10. Isabella Flores/Ivan Desyatov — 177.31
11. Angela Ling/Caleb Wein — 167.87
12. Leah Krauskopf/YuanShi Jin — 133.93
13. Cara Murphy/Joshua Levitt — 129.85
14. Caroline Depietri/TJ Carey — 123.40
WD. Raffaella Koncius/Alexey Shchepetov

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

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