Amber Glenn lands triple Axel en route to first U.S. senior title

By Maura Sullivan Hill, Team FSO contributing writer
Photos by Robin Ritoss

In January 2014, Amber Glenn won the gold medal in the junior event at the U.S. Championships in Boston. Ten years later, Glenn stood atop the podium once again, winning her first senior title at the 2024 U.S. Championships in Columbus.

The decade between those championships was marked by highs and lows for Glenn. She contemplated hanging up her skates more than once, faced mental health struggles, and moved her training base from Texas to Colorado Springs. There were successes, like the two medals on the Grand Prix series and becoming the 6th U.S. woman to land a triple axel in competition. And after she came out publicly as bisexual and pansexual in 2019, fans rallied around her with pride flags in the stands at competitions and younger skaters looked to her as a role model.

“I’ve been through what I’ve been through. I’m stronger because of it, and I’m wiser and I plan on continuing to grow and so it means so much [to win], just with everything I’ve gone through in the last 10 years,” Glenn said in the post-event press conference.

Her performance mirrored the up-and-down journey of the past 10 years, starting off with a huge triple axel and positive grades of execution on her next three jump elements. But then she popped her triple lutz into a double and missed her final jump, a planned triple flip that she popped into a single.

Glenn, who has often struggled with putting together a clean long program, said she is still, “just trying to figure out how to settle myself halfway through [the free skate]. Having this result here probably helps a lot. And I’m doing it all again in six days, so I get another shot at it very soon.”

From this competition, Glenn will head directly to the Four Continents Championships, which takes place in Shanghai, China from Jan. 30 – Feb. 4.

Defending champion Isabeau Levito fell three times in her short program and ended the night in third place. She also debuted a new short program at this event, after struggling with her short earlier in the season at the Grand Prix Final. Gone was the snake charmer short program, and a more lyrical number was in its place. Levito said she wasn’t happy with how she had been performing the snake-themed short, so she changed it before Nationals.

Between debuting the new short and coming in as defending champion, Levito shared that she was nervous for this competition.

“I felt shaky and nervous for this event. It was so tough going in trying to defend the title,” Levito said at the press conference. “I think, when I first made that mistake, it kind of woke me up and I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ And I pulled myself together for another couple minutes. And I honestly don’t have any recollection of how I went down on my flip or my loop. But at least I didn’t mess up my spins today, and I’m actually really happy about that.”

After her third fall, the crowd started clapping in an attempt to encourage Levito, and she felt their support.

Levito said, “I loved the crowd today. It was so full of all these enthusiastic people, and I felt like they were really cheering everyone one.”

U.S. Figure Skating said it was a sold-out crowd at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus, and the audience leapt to their feet for silver medalist Josephine Lee. Her free skate was the moment of the night.

“I didn’t expect so many people to be there,” Lee said. “I was told before I skated that it was going to be a sold-out stadium, but I didn’t actually expect it to be like that until I came here. I remember walking out when the second group was going on and I was just like, ‘How am I going to do this? I can’t do this because there’s so many people.’ But then when I went on the ice, it didn’t feel as big.”

Lee beat her previous personal best free skate by 15 points, and she cried tears of joy after both the short program and the free skate. Lee finished fifth in her senior debut at the U.S. Championships last year, but was disappointed in her showing in the short, where she popped her triple flip.

“Going into this competition, I really, really tried not to think about last year, and not repeating the mistakes I did last year,” Lee said. “Especially going into the short program, I was really anxious, and I talked to my sports psychologist, Dr. Caroline Silby, a lot about it.”

Sarah Everhardt, in her senior debut, skated a season’s best program that brought most of the crowd to its feet. Everhardt — who trains with the Quad God and defending champion in the men’s event, Ilia Malinin — landed seven triples, pumping her fist after the last one, a triple salchow.

Another highlight of the evening was Mia Kalin’s quadruple toe loop — the first-ever clean quadruple jump completed in the women’s event at the senior level at the U.S. Championships. Kalin, who finished eighth overall, is 15 years old and said she first started working on quads when she was 12.

“For me, I think it was just that my triple toe had a lot of room, so I thought, why not do a quad?” Kalin said in the mixed zone after her performance.

Starr Andrews also had a great skate, pulling up from ninth after the short, where she fell on her opening attempt at a triple-triple combo. Andrews finished in sixth place, with Lindsay Thorngren behind her in seventh place. Thorngren said she had been dealing with injuries since her last Grand Prix event at NHK Trophy and only started training jumps again last week.

Thorngren will join gold medalist Glenn at Four Continents next week, alongside 2023 NHK Trophy champion Ava Ziegler, who withdrew from Nationals to focus on preparing for Four Continents. Andrews is the first alternate for Four Continents.

The U.S. has two spots for women at the 2024 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, and that team will be announced after the conclusion of the senior events here in Columbus at the U.S. Championships. Glenn and Levito seem to be the most likely choices, as Lee is only 15 and too young to compete at senior Worlds.

Stay tuned for more updates from Columbus in our 2024 U.S. Championships Hub!