Articles/InterviewsJunior Worlds

Getting to know U.S. silver medalist Josephine Lee

By Gina Capellazzi, Team FSO website administrator
Photos by Robin Ritoss

Last year, Josephine Lee sat in 11th place after the short program at the U.S. Championships in what was her senior nationals debut. The next day, the 14-year-old delivered an almost clean free skate that included a triple flip-triple toe combination and a triple flip-double Axel-double toe combination. Her only mistake was an under-rotated triple Lutz. She would jump up six spots to finish in fifth place. Last March, Josephine competed at the 2023 World Junior Championships, finishing 19th.

For the 2023-2024 season, skaters needed to be at least 16 years or older by July 1 to compete on the senior level internationally. This was the new age requirement passed by the International Skating Union at its Congress in the summer of 2022. This meant that Josephine, who was only 15, was too young for senior international competitions this season. So in August, the Irvine, Calif. native competed at the junior level at the Cranberry Cup International in Norwood, Mass., where she won the bronze medal. A few weeks later, Josephine would be sent to the Junior Grand Prix in Austria, where she finished 8th. She would not receive an additional Junior Grand Prix.

Josephine qualified for her second senior U.S. Nationals by winning the Pacific Coast Sectionals Singles Final. With an overall score of 186.78, Lee also had the highest overall score for the senior women out of all three sectionals.

At the 2024 U.S. Championships, Josephine sat in fifth place after short program, but delivered the best free skate of the senior women’s event to move up to claim the silver medal.

Now Josephine is preparing for her second trip to the World Junior Championships. Figure Skaters Online caught up with Josephine in Columbus to learn more about the U.S. silver medalist.

FSO: When did you start skating?

Josephine: I was four years old when there was a new rink that opened on the way to my dad’s work. So he was like, ‘why don’t you just try skating?’ So I did. I took some lessons and funny story, actually, I failed the first level, which literally no one failed the first level. And at the time, my mom was trying to get me into different sports, like tennis. She tried ballet and I felt like it wasn’t too hard for me. I was naturally good at that. Skating was really difficult and I think that’s what drew me in because of those challenges. So, that’s how I got started.

FSO: So when did you get serious about skating?

Josephine: Everything was pretty much for fun until I was 12 years old. That’s when I switched coaches. It was after COVID, right before I turned 13. I started getting all my triple jumps clean. I competed and I made onto the ISP (the International Selection Pool). That’s when I realized that it started to get serious and I can actually go somewhere. It was also the year that I medaled at the U.S. Championships at junior. (2022)

FSO: You competed on the Junior Grand Prix last season and this season. What was the experience like on the Junior Grand Prix?

Josephine: It’s very different, especially compared to Nationals. Last year, I went to Poland, two weeks in a row. It was really interesting, but also it was a blessing because I learned so much from the first competition that I could apply to the second one right away. All my JGP experiences, I learned so much from. Especially this year, I felt like I didn’t perform as much. The main takeaway from this year’s JGP is that I need to focus more on performance than the technical elements. That’s how I skate better.

FSO: With your eighth place finish in Austria at the Junior Grand Prix, what did you think of your fall season?

Josephine: I had to come to terms with this (Nationals) being my last competition of the season. So I really just wanted to go balls out, you know, like I wanted to end on a good note, especially after having a really rough start. So I really came in with nothing, no expectations or anything. I just wanted to end on a good note and just lay it all out there.

FSO: There’s something about Nationals with you. Last season, you had a really good free skate and finished 5th in your senior Nationals debut. And now, you win the free skate and end up winning the silver medal. What is it about Nationals?

Josephine: Honestly, I have no clue. I think it’s because of the crowd. Also the arena. Around this time is usually when I peek during the season, and my coaching team, they know how to train to peak at a certain competition. So I think it’s my training habits and just the energy here.

FSO: How was training going for you coming into Nationals?

Josephine: So last season, I was running programs every single day and I felt really strong, especially the two weeks before Nationals, and the same happened this season. So I think it’s just an annual thing. I hope the same thing happens next year.

FSO: You mentioned the crowd. What was like it skating for that big of a crowd?

Josephine: It was really overwhelming. So I went out during the second group of skaters, just to get myself acclimated and look at how many people there were because I was told that it was going to be a sold-out arena. But I really didn’t know what that felt like until I actually saw it in person. That was honestly such a crazy experience, just watching everybody up there. I’ve never skated in front of such a huge crowd before and it’s just very overwhelming. I was about to cry. To be honest, I was panicking a little bit on the inside. But when I got out on the ice, it didn’t feel as big. I think I felt more comfortable. The crowd was so supportive, especially at the end of the program. It just felt so amazing to lay that all out there in front of such a huge crowd. So in the beginning, I felt a lot of pressure, but at the same time it gave me so much energy.

FSO: How did you feel when you found out that you won the silver medal?

Josephine: I cried like three times. After my free skate, my (fake) eyelashes fell off because I cried them off. I was crying so much, but I was also trying to cover my face so no one could see the eyelashes falling off. My coach was like, ‘take your face out of your hands.’ And I was like, ‘shoot my eyelashes are falling off. I don’t want to do this.’ So my eyelashes fell off on national television. I didn’t know where I would place. Going into this event, I had no expectations. After my long program, I expected maybe, at most, fourth, so I was just really happy with how I did. I didn’t really think about my placement at the time. Then when the last group of skaters were halfway through, I was like, ‘oh my god, I’m getting third.’ Then I cried again and my eyelashes fell off again. So I had to reapply them. Then after the last skater went, I was like so happy. I can’t believe I made it. I was in denial. But then after I got second, my friends told me, ‘Oh my god, you could get second.’ And I said ‘no, no way.’ I’m still in denial. I really don’t know how I felt. I was just too busy crying my eyelashes off.

FSO: What has the response from your family and friends been to your silver medal?

Josephine: I have gotten so many messages and I just feel so loved. I love all my friends back home and I love even the ones who aren’t in skating. They’re all supporting me. I volunteer at the senior center. So before I left, they’re like, ‘Oh my God. I’m gonna like try to watch you on TV.’ I just felt so supported by them especially. It’s so sweet. It’s so cool. So I can’t wait to go back home and see them again.

FSO: What did your coaches say to you after you won the silver medal?

Josephine:  I think the first thing that they told me was that all my hard work paid off. I remember my coach always telling me that, ‘I don’t want sad tears after you skate. I want tears, but I want them to be happy.’ That’s what he told me. He said, ‘I’m always telling you I want happy tears after all your hard work paid off.’

FSO: The women’s event at U.S. Championships ended on Friday, but you had to stay until Sunday for the gala. So what other things did you do while you were in Columbus?

Josephine:  I got invited to the Brian Boitano Lounge and I didn’t have an outfit. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t expecting anything. So I didn’t know so many things come with getting on the podium so I only brought training clothes so I went shopping for a few hours for a whole outfit.

FSO: U.S. Figure Skating has named you to the Junior Worlds team. How do you feel about that?

Josephine: I just want to carry the momentum from this experience to Junior Worlds. Last year, my Junior Worlds experiences were not very good. I again just want to enjoy the experience this time, because I feel like that also helps me skate better. Instead of thinking about getting spots, I just want to focus on myself.

FSO: What are your goals for Junior Worlds?

Josephine: Obviously, two clean programs. I just want to stay present and grounded.

FSO:  Have you given any thought to next season or what you would like to skate to?

Josephine: Yes, actually, because going into this competition, I wasn’t expecting Junior Worlds because my season was pretty rough earlier on. So I was already thinking about my music for next year. (Editor’s Note: Josephine, who turned 16 on Feb. 3, will still be too young for senior international competitions next season as the ISU age requirement increases to 17 for the 2024-25 season.)

FSO:  Are you in school right now, and if so, what year are you?

Josephine: I do online school. I’m a sophomore.

FSO: Have you thought about what you’d like to do after high school?

Josephine: I’m taking the SATs in March. I want to go to medical school.

FSO: What does Josephine like to do when she’s not skating?

Josephine: I like to eat. I love eating, I love talking to my friends and just watching YouTube.