After six full days of competition spread over two weeks at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, the 2021 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships came to a close on Thursday. All four junior-level disciplines competed and new champions were crowned, including Isabeau Levito in ladies, Eric Prober in men's, Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia in pairs, and Katarina Wolfkostin and Jeffrey Chen in ice dance.
Anastasiia Smirnova and Danil Siianytsia improved upon their 2020 U.S. silver medal and won the junior title at the 2021 U.S. Championships – and they did so with an injury.
Coach Trudy Oltmanns revealed that Smirnova suffered a high ankle sprain on her right leg in practice on Tuesday, just one day before competition began.
"We're pretty excited about it," Siianytsia said of the win. "I guess it's a beginning, hopefully it won't be our last one. [We're] moving forward and grateful for what we got."
Their free skate earned 110.78 points for a total of 169.85. It was the highest score of the day, though both skaters believe they have even more in them.
"I got winded at the end, so didn't really expect that, at least from my end," Siianytsia said. "I thought our cardio was a bit better than that, but we got through. I wouldn't say that it was a terrific skate, for sure."
Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard successfully returned to the junior podium, after taking bronze in 2019, with the silver medal. Their free skate scored 95.88 for a 148.02-point total.
"I feel really accomplished to be the silver medalist, because it feels like our hard work paid off," Martins said. "Even when it was a weird season, we still worked hard and it paid off."
"The program was definitely a struggle throughout the whole thing," Bedard added of their Beauty and the Beast-themed program. "We had to fight the whole time. But it feels really good to know that we're done."
Martins and Bedard have been together for almost six years, a rarity at their ages.
"I think it's helped with our connection," Martins said. "We've been doing it for a long time, so we're pretty good at knowing each other's elements and what's going to happen and how everything works."
While Smirnova and Siianytsia, and Martins and Bedard maintained their placements from the short program, there was a shakeup for the bronze and pewter medals.
In their first season together, Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernandez moved up a spot to earn the bronze medal, scoring 90.22 points for a 137.26 in total.
"It's nice," Plazas said. "It's rewarding for all the hard work we've been doing, and although we didn't skate our best, we still put out there what we could do, and it's rewarding to see that our hard work is getting us somewhere."
Plazas returns to the podium for the first time in four years; he won the U.S. junior title in 2017 with Joy Weinberg.
Claiming the pewter medal was Catherine Rivers and Timmy Chapman, who were fifth after the short program. They are also in their first season together. Their 88.04 points in the free skate helped lift them to a 134.01 points.
"For me it just feels like the reward for all the hard work we've put in and just kind of the cherry on top of everything that we've done so far this season, so it feels really good," Rivers said.
After winning the 2020 U.S. junior silver medal and the 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championship Series presented by Toyota, Isabeau Levito claimed the gold medal at the 2021 U.S. Championships.
For the 13-year-old, however, figure skating does not revolve around titles.
"It's a good title to have, although I don't focus as much on my titles," Levito said.
Levito's free skate to "Malaguena" by Black Stanley and 101 Violin Strings scored 121.82 points, and her total score was 187.48. Both are new personal bests, although she felt her free skate performance could have been even better.
"I didn't beat my personal best – not like numbers and scores, but myself," Levito said. "I know I've done so much better many times. It's good to have won, but for myself I didn't feel like I won. I think I still could've done a lot better."
Levito said she struggled to handle her nerves, being under the bright lights of a competition venue for the first time in a full year. She believes she will be better off when she is able to compete more regularly.
She already has plans to get back to work at home in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and improve for next year, in which she hopes to compete at the senior level domestically.
"I think I can definitely have a lot of more power," she said. "Speed into my skating would definitely help me, and I still think I can definitely spin a lot faster. And, with the jumps, difficulty, expectations are getting higher, and I still think I should get more technical elements for myself."
Kanon Smith, who is completing her first season on the junior level, finished with the silver medal after a free skate to "A Million Dreams" from The Greatest Showman that received 123.36 points – the highest free skate score – for a total of 185.88.
"I did what I wanted to do, and I accomplished my goals doing a good, clean program, so I'm really happy about my performance," Smith said.
The transition from novice to junior level helped Smith improve her stamina for this season, as the length of the short program increased. Now that she has established herself as a successful junior, the 12-year-old knows what she wants to work on next.
"Improving my jumps is one thing, and spins I have to really work on because I haven't really been able to work on them," she said. "And definitely my skating skills. My skating skills need to step up."
Clare Seo is leaving her first U.S. Championships with a bronze medal. Seo fell on her triple Lutz-triple toe loop and scored 113.24 points in the free skate for a total of 173.51 points.
Seo went into the free skate with a plan to relax, concentrate and not be nervous. She said the nerves got to her, but she is focused on executing perfect triple-triple combinations for next season.
Ava Ziegler was the surprise pewter medalist, after having placed eighth in the short program. Ziegler jumped to fourth after a free skate worth 107.04 points for a total of 160.77 points.
"I have this saying in my head that it's not about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and get back up from the hit," Ziegler said about bouncing back after the short. "So that really helps me push forward and just stay in the moment, and if I make a mistake, that's in the past and there's nothing you can do about it."
Jeffrey Chen was so overwhelmed following the ice dance medal ceremony that he found himself apologizing as he tried to find the right words to describe his win with partner Katarina Wolfkostin.
"Obviously – wow, so many emotions – okay, sorry," Chen started. "It's shocking to me because three or four days ago I was laying on my couch just icing me knee and hoping for the best and then all of a sudden I'm here, and just doing my best trying to put out everything we worked so hard for."
"Having the abrupt change of plans, it's shocking, but it's also amazing that we can have a second chance at competing," Wolfkostin added. "It was super incredible that we could even be here today."
The 2020 U.S. silver medalists and 2020 Youth Olympic bronze medalists, Wolfkostin and Chen had withdrawn from the competition after Chen was told he had an ACL tear and could not skate. He received the results of another opinion, which cleared him to skate, on Monday.
Having been off the ice for a week, the team rushed to the rink to try all of their elements, then went straight to the airport. Three days later, they won their first junior title in just their second season together.
"It's just been an amazing experience," Chen said. "It's also, for me, it's been easier because I don't have any pressure. I didn't think I could compete, so being able to compete, not even caring about what happens and doing my best has been great."
Chen said his knee hurt during the warmup, so he received pain medication to get through the program. It didn't show as the team scored 98.41 points for a total of 167.22 points.
Oona Brown and Gage Brown also improved on their placement from 2020. After placing third last season, they earned the silver medal with a free skate score of 96.71 points for a 162.91-point total.
The Brown siblings aspire to push ice dance as an art form through their programs.
In a season that came with only one in-person competition and a few virtual ones, they were able to use the unique nature of it all to learn and grow.
"I think we definitely learned about how to keep motivated throughout a weird season like this," Gage said. "We also learned a lot about ourselves – how we work, what works best for us. That's how we can keep on having strong showings."
Katarina DelCamp and Ian Somerville won the bronze medal in their second season together, improving on their fifth-place performance last season. They scored 87.04 points in the free dance and 147.30 total.
"It was pretty stressful going in because it was pretty tight going in, score-wise," Somerville said.
Their disco free dance was inspired by Championship-level bronze medalists Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who have performed a Saturday Night Fever rhythm dance the past two seasons.
"I see myself a lot in Jean-Luc," Somerville said. "I feel like when I watch him skate, wow, I think that if I can try to implement some of his awesome energy, that would be a great addition to my skating. We just really love them, a lot."
Isabella Flores and Dimitry Tsarevski completed the podium, taking the pewter in their first season. They scored 86.42 points in the free dance for a 146.40-point total.
"I think it went pretty well," Tsarevski said. "We decided to focus more on our performance, and because of that we left a few technical points on the table. But it was really great, we had a lot of fun."
Out of all Championship-level and junior-level disciplines, the junior men's competition saw the biggest shake-ups between the short program and free skate results.
The competition was led by 18-year-old Eric Prober, whose stellar free skate helped him claim the title after placing third in the short program. Prober's free skate scored 127.79 points as he totaled 192.83.
"When I woke up today, I was a little nervous," Prober said, "and I tried to stay focused from the short I had yesterday, and I wanted to really show you guys what I was working on, and I did, so I'm super excited and proud."
Prober went from failing to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Championships to winning the prestigious event one year later.
"I'm still in shock because last year, I didn't even make it here," he recalled. "I didn't even perform well at Sectionals. And I switched coaches [to Laura Pizzelanti], and she has changed my skating completely. I've only been with her six, seven months now, and I'm super happy to give the performance I gave today."
To qualify for the U.S. Championships, Prober placed seventh in the U.S. Championship Series. His free skate for the virtual competition was recorded on a public session that he said had roughly 17 people.
"I had school online and I couldn't really skip classes," Prober explained. "I had to do it on a public session, and that was a challenge. It wasn't a full-size sheet, so I dealt with that and needed to get used to the bigger ice here."
Joseph Klein, 16, improved on his fourth-place short program to take the silver medal with a free skate score of 123.70 points and a total of 187.30.
"I was pretty satisfied with how I skated today," Klein said. "Made a few mistakes here and there, but I think it's definitely a really big improvement from where I was this point last year. I'm glad I was able to show that, with everything going on, my training is still on point and I'm able to come here and have a skate like that one."
He was 13th at the 2020 U.S. Championships, and made significant improvements to accomplished his goal for this year.
"I wanted to medal at this event," Klein said. "I think my biggest goal was to get here, show everyone that I was prepared to compete, even with all the struggles everyone's been through. … There's going to be hard points in my career, but as long as I persevere through it, I can come back and be stronger than before."
To earn the bronze medal, Samuel Mindra vaulted from eighth place to third with a free skate score of 121.12 points. His total was 181.49.
Seventeen-year-old Mindra said he spent the season driving from state to state, rink to rink in order to train after his home rink increased prices. Despite the challenges, he was able to accomplish his goal of surpassing 180 points for the first time in his career.
"I felt great," Mindra said. "There were some mistakes, but it's alright, I got my goal that I tried to do this year."
Jacob Sanchez, 13, claimed the pewter medal with a total of 177.55 points. Sanchez led after the short program but had three falls in his free skate, which scored 110.64 points.
Nevertheless, Sanchez walks away from Las Vegas with nothing but positive memories.
"I really enjoyed it," he said. "I love that I was able to compete in person, perform, and for me it was one of the most fun experiences I've had so far in my skating career."
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Tag(s): News Archive