The 2023 European and U.S. National Figure Skating Championships Come to a Thrilling End
The European Figure Skating Championships concluded on Saturday with the free dance and the women’s free skate. Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, the reigning world silver medalist, hoped to move up to gold here but was disappointed to settle for second place. Anastasiia Gubanova became the first Georgian skater to win gold at Europeans; Kimmy Repond of Switzerland remained in third place. In ice dance, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri won gold, with crowd-pleasers Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of the U.K., skating to Lady Gaga, in second place; Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis, on home ice in Finland, won bronze.
In San Jose Saturday night, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier reclaimed the U.S. pairs title they first won in 2021. They will go to the World Figure Skating Championships along with silver medalists Emily Chan and Spencer Howe and bronze medalists Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea. With the retirement of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and the withdrawal of Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, recovering from injuries, the U.S. ice-dance field this season was its widest-open in years. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the defending champions, have established themselves over the past few seasons as dancers who perform best in character; their snake dance, with Chock in green as the serpent, became a signature. (A toy snake was thrown onto the ice after their free dance on Saturday; Chock wore it into the kiss-and-cry.) Now a couple in real life as well as on the ice, they wanted their free dance to represent their relationship, but since its initial response (at Skate America in October, where they lost the free dance to Hawayek and Baker) they have made changes: Now Chock is fire, Bates air, and the two are intertwined. The result won them their fourth U.S. title. (The former teammates they have outlasted include Maia and Alex Shibutani, inducted in their first year of eligibility into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.) Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, skating to “Rhapsody in Blue” (with Green in fuchsia), won silver—the first U.S. medal not only for them but for their coaches, former champions Charlie and Tanith White and Greg Zuerlein, who established the Michigan Ice Dance Academy last March. Green and Parsons were the ice-dance gold medalists at the 2022 Four Continents Championship and will surely defend their title in Colorado Springs next month. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, with an elegant free skate to “Summertime,” by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, won bronze but did not make the world team; Hawayek and Baker were given a bye.
Even before he won the silver at last year’s Nationals, Ilia Malinin, now 18, was styling himself “quadg0d” on Instagram. He has since become the first skater to land a ratified quad axel in competition. (That jump consists of four and a half revolutions in midair off a forward edge. A high school senior, he has said physics is his favorite subject.) Despite the quad axel, this season he had not skated a clean short program until Friday, when he earned the second-highest technical score ever at Nationals (behind Olympic champion Nathan Chen). Malinin told interviewers he was there to claim “his” title, and he did it on Sunday—but not with the performance he wanted or viewers expected. Obviously nervous despite his usual bravado, he fell on the quad axel and made other mistakes, but the quads he did land added to his big score in the short, giving him his first gold.
Malinin may be quadg0d, but no skater currently competing has earned more audience goodwill and affection than Jason Brown. At 28 the grand old man of U.S. figure skating, he finished fourth at last year’s Nationals, but in a decision some questioned, he was named to the Olympic team over Malinin, who had to settle for the world junior title. Brown finished in sixth place in Beijing and spent the rest of the year performing in ice shows rather than competing. He has never had the technical prowess of his top rivals, but his high scores in program components have kept him competitive. Having decided a few months ago that he wanted to skate in one more Nationals, Brown performed his most confident, relaxed short program ever, with a technical score that put him closer to Malinin than many predicted. Despite a fall on his triple flip in the free skate, he won the silver, his fourth medal at Nationals. Tomoki Hiwatashi slipped out of third place after the free skate; first-time medalist Andrew Torgashev won bronze.