Amber Glenn thought she'd thrown away her chances of winning her long-sought U.S. figure skating title when, after landing a dramatic opening triple axel Friday night, the 24-year-old from Texas fell apart over the second half of her program.
Then she watched Isabeau Levito collapse right behind her.
The defending champion fell three times during her own free skate, drawing an audible gasp from a rapt crowd in Columbus, Ohio. And when Levito's score was read, Glenn's tears of anguish turned to tears of joy. Her score of 210.46 points was enough to crown her the nation's best for the first time, a full decade after she reigned as the U.S. junior champion.
“I mean, utter shock,” Glenn said. “It was definitely not the performance I would have liked to have had tonight, and I know both Isabeau and I are capable of so much more. But just the shock that all my hard work has paid off.”
Levito finished with 200.68 points, falling to third behind Josephine Lee, whose winning free skate gave her the silver medal.
In the men's event earlier Friday, Ilia Malinin made one of the toughest combinations in skating look easy and was rewarded with 108.57 points, giving him the biggest lead after a short program under the current scoring system in nationals history.
The 19-year-old Grand Prix Final champion, performing his “Malagueña” program, opened with an effortless quad toe loop, then landed the quad lutz-triple toe combo, before making a triple axel look like a skip across the ice. Upon hearing his scores, Malinin flashed a black-and-gold towel that read “Quad God” — his all-too-fitting nickname.
“I was definitely relieved after the performance, especially after some boot malfunctions the past few weeks,” said Malinin, who went back to an old pair this week. “I was really grateful that I was able to get out there.”
The national championships continue Saturday with the pairs free skate and the free dance.
The defending U.S. champion, Malinin is the only skater in the world to land a quad axel in competition. He did not have the four-and-a-half rotation jump listed in his planned free skate for Sunday, but there is always a chance that he pulls it out.
“I'll have to see how I'm feeling just mentally and physically,” Malinin said. “I think it will all depend on how I'm feeling and I guess what my point of view is, or how I feel about it going into the free.”
Max Naumov, the 2020 junior national champion, was a distant but surprising second after his opening quad salchow made up for a problem on his triple axel. He received 89.72 points in his quest for a podium spot after finishing fourth last year.
As usual, Jason Brown brought down the house at Nationwide Arena despite a fall on his opening triple axel. The 29-year-old fan favorite, who skipped most of the season to stay healthy and prepare for nationals, recovered to land a triple flip and triple lutz-triple toe combo while skating with his customary flair to “Adios” by the British composer Benjamin Clementine.
Brown earned 89.02 points as he seeks to become the oldest man on the podium since Todd Eldredge won in 2002.
“It's crazy that the people I competed against are coaching people at this event,” Brown said. “That, to me, blows my mind, and the level of skating just continues to be elevated year after year, and I think that is incredible.”
Incredible is an apt way to describe what transpired in the women's free skate.
Glenn, who trailed Levito by less than half a point after their short programs, landed a huge triple axel to open her program, a jump that very few women are willing to attempt. She followed with triple flip-triple toe and triple loop-double toe combinations, and a triple salchow, all of which appeared to have her cruising toward a national title.
As if on cue, the late-program mistakes that have held Glenn back for years surfaced again. She short-changed a jump sequence by doing only a double lutz, and finished with a single flip, and those two mistakes cost her a huge amount of points.
“I saw my choreographer and said, ‘I’m so sorry,'” Glenn said later. “I didn't do nearly what she had for me in this program.”
Glenn watched from off the ice as Levito fell on her opening triple lutz-triple toe combo, then appeared to get back on track by nailing her next three jumping passes. But then came a fall on her triple flip, and another on her triple loop, and by the time she spun to her finish in the middle of the ice, Levito was burying her face in her hands and fighting back tears.
When the scores were read, Levito was left in third place and Glenn had replaced her as the U.S. champion.
“I know I have so much more left in me,” Glenn said. “Ten years ago, I won junior (nationals), and the world of expectations were put upon me, and it crushed me. And now, coming back 10 years later and having this — it's incredible.”
AP Sports: https://apnews.com/sports