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U.S. figure skaters seek landmark wins at Grand Prix Final

Levito's free program clinches France GP win
Isabeau Levito's third-place finish in the free skate was enough to win the Grand Prix de France for her first GP win.

At last year’s Grand Prix Final, U.S. figure skaters made the podium in all four disciplines for the first time (thanks to a first-ever pairs’ medal). All of the medals were silver or bronze.

This week, Americans in three events are capable of climbing to the top step in the sport’s most exclusive competition. It could be a catapult to favorite status for March’s world championships, which mark the halfway point of the Olympic cycle.

Singles skaters Ilia Malinin and Isabeau Levito and ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in Beijing from Thursday through Saturday, live on Peacock. The world’s top skaters — six per discipline — gather for the first time this season.

Malinin, 19, and Levito, 16, are reigning U.S. champions already with a bevy of international medals belying their youth. A Grand Prix Final gold would be their most prestigious to date.

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Broadcast Schedule

Malinin, who last season became the first skater to land a clean quadruple Axel (and tried it at all eight of his competitions), has so far shelved the element this Grand Prix season.

The move to prioritize artistry paid off at October’s Skate America. Malinin repeated as champion by shattering his personal-best total score by 22.03 points. That score would have won last season’s world championships by 9.33 (Malinin earned bronze at those worlds as the lone teen in the top 13).

“One of the things that I did was I looked at other skaters and their best performances in the past, like Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen, and I just took some pieces of their programs and sort of how they attacked the ice and how they really approached the audience from there and tried to use it in my own way,” he said at Skate America.

He was nearly as strong at his second Grand Prix (and most recent start) in France last month. But there, Frenchman Adam Siao Him Fa put up a personal best to win, though it was 3.69 fewer points than Malinin tallied at Skate America.

Malinin and Siao Him Fa, a 22-year-old who was 10th at last season’s worlds, are about 20 points ahead of the rest of the world this season by best total score. The group behind them includes two-time world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who was runner-up in his two starts this fall after going undefeated last season.

Levito took silver at last year’s Grand Prix Final in her senior international debut season, becoming the third-youngest U.S. woman to make a Final podium after Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan.

After winning her first U.S. title in January, she placed fourth at worlds and second at Skate America. Then she won Grand Prix France in November, marking the biggest international title for an American woman in seven years.

She goes into the Final ranked third in the field by best total score this season. Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan is the top seed.

Then there are Chock and Bates, who look to close out a so-far undefeated 2023.

The engaged couple, in their 13th season together, seek their first Grand Prix Final title after four previous silver medals. It’s the only major annual international title they have yet to win after checking off the world championships last March.

They rank fourth in the field by best total score this season, even though they won their two fall Grand Prix starts.

The U.S. will not win a pairs’ medal. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, last year’s silver medalists and the 2022 World champions, did not enter the Grand Prix Series after saying that the 2022-23 season would probably be their last.

This week will produce a 10th different pairs’ champion in the last 10 Grand Prix Finals, but there is a clear favorite: Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps won both of their Grand Prix starts and have the best score of the field this season by 12.13 points.

The 40-year-old Stellato-Dudek, a 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles for the U.S., is already the oldest skater to win a Grand Prix event.