By Gina Capellazzi, Team FSO website administrator
Photos by Robin Ritoss
The 2023-2024 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix Series got underway Oct. 20 with the first event of six — Skate America, which took place inside the Credit Union of Texas Event Center in Allen, Texas.
World bronze medalist Ilia Malinin, of the U.S., was the heavy favorite to win gold at Skate America. While he had told the media that he wasn’t planning to add his “not-so secret weapon” — the quadruple Axel — to his free skate, so that he could focus on his artistry, Malinin still had a technically strong free skate to win his second consecutive Skate America gold by more than 31 points.
In his free skate, Malinin executed a triple Axel, quadruple Lutz, quadruple Salchow, quadruple Lutz-Euler-triple Salchow and quadruple toe-triple toe as well as a triple Lutz-triple Axel sequence. He achieved a new ISU personal best score of 206.41 and had a total score of 310.47, which was another personal best score.
“I was really not expecting this outcome. I’m still speechless,” Malinin said.
“I have no words to explain how I really feel. It’s just a mix of emotions,” he added. “I’ve put in so many hours, and I think that it really paid off that I took a lot of time to focus on everything, to try to improve everything, to try to have the least possible amount of mistakes in the program. Overall, I’m really happy with how I did today.”
Malinin will compete at the Grand Prix de France in two weeks.
France Kevin Aymoz, who was in second after the short program, put out an intense free skate to Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero”. His free skate include a quadruple toe, along with seven clean triples. Aymoz earned a season best free skate score of 181.75 and a total score of 279.09 to claim the silver medal.
“Today I was really stressed,” Aymoz said following the free skate. “My coaches told me to not hold my seat and jump off the cliff and try not to be in the comfort zone.”
Aymoz will compete at Grand Prix Espoo where he will look to try to qualify for his first Grand Prix Final since winning the bronze medal at the Final in 2019.
In third after the short program, Japan’s Shun Sato’s free skate included a quadruple toe-double toe combination and five triples. His other two quadruple jumps – a quadruple lutz and a quadruple toe were not called clean. He finished fourth in the free skating with 155.89 points but remained in third place overall with a total score of 247.50.
“I was glad to come in third,” Sato said. “But in my free skate, from start to end, I was looking really tired.”
Like Aymoz, Sato will compete at Grand Prix Espoo, where he hopes to qualify for his second Grand Prix Final.
Georgia’s Nika Egadze moved up one spot to finish in fourth place with an overall score of 237.45. This was his best placement of his career on the Grand Prix circuit. Azerbaijan’s Vladimir Litvintsev finished third in the free skating to move up from eighth in the short program to fifth overall with a score of 237.44. Japan’s Nozomu Yoshioka slipped from fourth to sixth place in his first, truly senior Grand Prix event. (Note: he did compete at 2020 NHK Trophy, which was a domestic event due to COVID).
In her free skate, Hendrickx produced five clean triples. Her triple toe in a combination with a triple Lutz was called on the quarter. She earned 145.36 for the free skating, just shy of her personal best free skate score of 145.53. She earned a total score of 221.28 points to win her second ISU Grand Prix gold medal of her career.
“Of course it means a lot for me,” Hendrickx remarked following the event. “I had a tough preparation coming into this event. I just wanted to enjoy it and I did.
Hendrickx will now compete at Cup of China in three weeks.
After an edge call on her triple Lutz in the short program, U.S. Champion Isabeau Levito was sitting in third place. In her free skate, Levito executed five clean triple jumps, including triple Lutz-triple toe combination. She did receive an under-rotation on the triple Salchow in her three jump competition. The reigning ISU Grand Prix Final silver medalist achieved a free skate score of 138.08 and a total score of 208.15, both season’s best scores.
Levito will compete in two weeks at Grand Prix de France.
Sitting in fourth place after the short program, five points out of third place, was Estonia’s Ninna Petrokina. Petrokina, who had won the bronze medal a few weeks ago at Shanghai Trophy, landed a triple Lutz-Euler-triple Salchow combination in her free skate as well as three more clean triple jumps. Petrokina posted a new ISU personal best free skate score of 129.53, which was fourth in the free skate. However, she moved up to third overall with a total score of 194.55, which was also a personal best score. With the bronze medal, Petrokina made history as she took home the first ISU Grand Prix medal for Estonia.
“I am so proud because this is the first Grand Prix medal for Estonia,” Petrokina shared. “During my program I tried to focus fully on my elements as I felt some tiredness in my body. But I kept telling myself that everything is fine.”
Petrokina’s next Grand Prix event is Cup of China.
Japan’s Hana Yoshida, who was making her senior Grand Prix debut, climbed from ninth to finish fourth overall. She went for a triple Axel, but stepped out of the landing. She earned a free skate score of 131.58, which was third in the free skate. Her overall score was 190.98.
One of the highlights of the women’s event came from Team USA’s Amber Glenn. After a few seasons of attempting the triple Axel in competition, Glenn landed her triple Axel for the first time, becoming the sixth U.S. woman to land a triple Axel in competition. Many of Glenn’s family and friends were in the arena for the event as Glenn is a Texas native. Later in the program, the excitement of landing the triple Axel took over and Glenn fell on two of her jumps, triple Lutz and triple flip and popped her planned triple loop. She dropped from second after the short program to finish fifth overall with an overall score of 189.63.
2023 ISU Four Continents silver medalist Mone Chiba, of Japan, finished sixth in her senior ISU Grand Prix debut.
With the withdrawal of reigning World champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara due to Kihara’s lumbar spondylolisthesis, the pairs’ field was left wide open at Skate America. For half of the field, the event marked their Grand Prix debut.
After the short program, just 0.37 points separated Germany’s Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel and Canada’s Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud. A similar scenario happened earlier this season when Hocke and Kunkel had a 0.07 point advantage over Pereira and Michaud at Nebelhorn Trophy, taking home the bronze medal.
In the free skate at Skate America, Hocke fell on the side-by-side triple salchow at the beginning of the program, but managed to land the throw triple flip and throw triple loop. The 2023 European bronze medalists earned a free skate score of 120.64 and a total score of 184.23 to win their first Grand Prix event.
“We really tried to deliver up until the end today,” Hocke said. “We have the Grand Prix in China in 2 weeks, we were there 2 weeks ago and hope we make it to the Final to go a third time to China this season!”
Knowing that the gold medal was in their reach after the short program, Pereira and Michaud produced a strong free skate that included side-by-side triple salchows and a throw triple salchow. However, Pereira fell on the side-by-side double Axel in a sequence with a triple toe. They earned a free skate score of 119.37, which was just 1.27 points behind Hocke and Kunkel, and a total score of 182.59 to win the silver medal.
“It is our first Grand Prix together, today is very special to us because it’s the first Grand Prix medal for us!” Pereira said.
Pereira and Michaud will have a week between their Grand Prix events. They will compete at Grand Prix de France in two weeks.
The new team of Chelsea Liu and Balazs Nagy of the U.S., won the bronze medal in their first Grand Prix event. Their free skate earned a score of 116.43, which was a new personal best, and a total score of 177.66, also a new personal best.
“We’ve skated together for half a year now, but we don’t ever think about the results, we are really proud of ourselves for relying on our training and being consistent,” Liu said.
Liu and Nagy, who finished 4th at Autumn Classic, don’t have a second Grand Prix event. They will now prepare for the U.S. Pairs Final, Nov. 7-12, 2023 in Tacoma, Washington.
Fellow Americans Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernández, who were in seventh after the short program, finished in fourth place, and Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard, who made their Grand Prix debut at Skate America, finished in fifth place.
Kicking off their 13th season together, Team USA’s Madison Chock & Evan Bates won their fourth Skate America title, while Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha of Canada took silver. France’s Evgeniia Lopreva and Geoffrey Brissaud won the bronze. Read more on the dance event over at Ice-Dance.com.