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Isabeau Levito edges Amber Glenn in figure skating nationals short program

Defending champion Isabeau Levito leads Amber Glenn by a scant four tenths of a point after the short program at the Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Levito, 16, tallied 75.38 points in Columbus, Ohio, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, debuting a new program. She hung on for the lead — despite coming off balance and falling out of her closing spin — thanks in part to more difficult jumps than Glenn.

“It was very seamless for me, flowed very well this program, and I’m really happy,” Levito said on NBC Sports. “In the program, I was telling myself, ‘Stop holding back. Stop thinking. Just do it.’”

Glenn, a past U.S. silver and bronze medalist, eyes her first gold in her ninth senior nationals. Clare Seo, the 2022 U.S. junior champion, is third and a distant 7.57 behind Glenn going into Friday’s free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so ecstatic,” the 24-year-old Glenn said. “I’ve been working really hard in training, and it’s great to see it pay off.”

After nationals, two women will be named to the team for March’s world championships in Montreal.

Ava Ziegler, who won a Grand Prix event in November, is also a candidate, though she is skipping nationals to focus on next week’s Four Continents Championships in China. It’s possible that a final decision on a spot might not be made until after Four Continents.

Levito was third in her senior nationals debut in 2022 at age 14, when she was too young for the Olympics. She ascended to the leading U.S. woman later that year after all three Olympic team members stepped away from competition.

Last season, she won nationals and placed fourth at worlds. That matched the best finish for a U.S. woman in her senior global championships debut (Olympics or worlds) since Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan took silver and bronze at the 1991 Worlds.

This past fall, Levito became the first U.S. woman to win an international Grand Prix Series event in seven years (Ziegler won her Grand Prix three weeks later). She entered nationals with the two best scores by an American woman this season.

Glenn took silver at the 2021 Nationals and bronze in 2023. In between, she withdrew from the 2022 Nationals that determined the Olympic team due to a COVID-19 bout.

“After this last Olympic cycle, I didn’t even know how much longer I would be competing,” Glenn said. “To be here at my best two years after (the 2022 Olympics) and only two years before the next Olympics is great, and I hope to continue improving.”

This past October, Glenn became the sixth U.S. woman to land a triple Axel in competition, doing so in her 14th attempt dating to January 2021. She did not attempt a triple Axel in Thursday’s short program.

Earlier Thursday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance as they seek a fifth national title and record-tying 12th consecutive podium.

Chock, 31, and Bates, 34, scored 92.17 points, taking a substantial 8.98-point lead over Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko going into Saturday’s free dance.

Chock and Bates went undefeated in 2023, including becoming the oldest U.S. ice dance champions in at least 50 years and the oldest world champions ever in the event.

This year, they can move one shy of the record six U.S. ice dance titles held by 2014 Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

A 12th consecutive podium would tie the record for any discipline shared by Michelle Kwan and Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles, a pairs’ team from the 1910s and ‘20s.

In pairs, Emily Chan and Spencer Howe led the short program in their first competition in 10 months, then withdrew a few hours later.

Chan and Howe competed for the first time since Howe had surgery in May to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He said before Thursday’s skate that he was at 95%.

“Tonight was a big success for us, and a huge milestone to our comeback, but we feel we want to take this time to continue to get healthy and set ourselves up for success,” Howe told U.S. Figure Skating regarding their withdrawal.

Chan and Howe, last year’s U.S. silver medalists, landed side-by-side triple toe loops, but Chan put her hand down and spun out of the landing of their throw triple loop.

It was still enough as all of the top pairs had at least one significant error.

They tallied 65.86 points skating to an Elvis Presley-themed program, 1.29 points better than Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea. Kam and O’Shea are the new leaders going into Saturday’s free skate.

Chan and Howe went from fourth at the January 2022 U.S. Championships to fifth at the March 2023 World Championships, the best debut finish for a U.S. pair in 33 years.

They competed all last season with Howe nursing the torn labrum. The surgery recovery timeline forced them to withdraw from the fall Grand Prix Series. More on their road back here.

Howe said their first one-handed lift (with his right arm) this week came not in practice, but in Thursday’s short program, an indicator he’s still working his way back with the shoulder.

Last year’s U.S. champions, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, stepped away from competition after last season.

Chan and Howe are still eligible to be chosen for one of three U.S. pairs’ spots for worlds despite withdrawing from nationals. They must file a petition to be considered, and they are planning to do so, according to U.S. Figure Skating.