Photo credit: Melanie Heaney/U.S. Figure Skating
Leah Neset and Artem Markelov continued their unbeaten season by breezing to victory in the rhythm dance. They can become the only U.S. skaters to win three consecutive U.S. junior titles on Wednesday.
Aleksandr Fegan delivered a personal-best short program to grab the lead in the junior men’s event, while the junior pairs team of Olivia Flores and Luke Wang separated themselves from the field after the short program.
The novice pairs and novice ice dance races are tight after the pattern dance segment, with multiple teams on contention.
Neset and Markelov on the Verge of Third Junior U.S. Ice Dance Title
Leah Neset and Artem Markelov took a giant step toward a record third consecutive U.S. junior ice dance title with their winning 1980s rock-inspired rhythm dance.
The reigning Junior Grand Prix Final champions, who train in Colorado Springs, Colorado and are undefeated so far this season, posted a personal-best score of 75.03, 10.48 points more than the second-place team. They performed to the Scorpions’ “Still Loving You” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
“It’s fun to be able to perform in front of family and have it be like a homecoming,” Neset said.
The team’s straight line lift that received a Level 4, Neset said, was her favorite element of the event, while Markelov pointed to, “The slide in the step sequence, because that’s the moment when I really could dance.”
The midline step sequence to end the performance was the highest scoring element of the competition, scoring more than 11 points.
Both athletes said they will approach the free dance with a business-as-usual attitude.
“We’ll have the same mindset – go out there and do our job,” Neset said. “I think we really want to try and enjoy the moment and be able to perform for the audience.”
Veteran partners Jenna Hauer and Benjamin Starr delivered a solid performance that resulted in a score of 64.55.
The team from Connecticut felt fortunate to be in Columbus as they’ve been dealing with Starr’s back injury.
“It’s been a really tough fight to get here,” Starr said. “For me personally, it hurt to do everything, and to not do anything, that was the worst.”
“Mentally to come to the [U.S. Ice Dance Final] and do well has been a big boost for us,” Hauer said.
Starr also had major issues traveling from Hartford, Connecticut, to Columbus, with his flights being rebooked seven times.
Nevertheless, the 2023 U.S. bronze medalists recorded two Level 4 elements during their performance by the late legendary icon Tina Turner.
“It’s hard to perform up to her, but we see it as more of a tribute,” Hauer said.
First-year team Yahli Pedersen and Jeffrey Chen finished third in the segment with a score of 63.99.
Based in Canton, Michigan, they arrived in Columbus having qualified and competed at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December.
They performed to music from Queen, coming out strong after tallying more than 17 points for their first two elements.
“It was a lot of fun,” Pedersen said. “We were just trying to stay focused throughout, and I think we were able to do that. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re focusing on keeping that energy throughout.”
Caroline Mullen and Brendan Mullen are in fourth place with a score of 61.08.
Flores and Wang ‘Unleash Inner Selves’ in Junior Pairs
2023 U.S. pewter medalists Olivia Flores and Luke Wang couldn’t wait to get back on competition ice after the long holiday break, rolling to a nearly 10-point advantage after the short program.
Fifth at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, the Colorado Springs-based team opened their performance to “Once Upon a December” with a Level 3 triple twist and never looked back, en route to a personal best score of 59.83.
“I feel all of our training has brought us to this point,” said Wang, who also competes in the junior men’s event. “This is a point where we can fully unleash our inner selves and just freely perform it, and I think that was the cherry on top for us today.”
“Yesterday I was really nervous,” Flores said. “Today it was more channeled into excitement, so that was a plus.”
Sydney Cooke and Matthew Kennedy delivered an error-free program and sit second with a score of 50.24 – a new personal best. A Level 4 lift midway through their program and clean double Axels were element highlights.
Cooke and Kennedy, who train in Newark, Delaware, won the U.S. Pairs Final in November. Cooke praised her partner’s progress.
“He’s done really, really well considering he’s only been a pair boy for a full year,” Cooke said.
Naomi Williams and Lachlan Lewer, second at the 2023 U.S. Championships in the junior ranks, finished third in the segment with a score of 48.64. Pleased with their skating and execution – except for a fall and no points on their spin – Williams and Lewer said they feel fortunate to be in Columbus after having overcome a foot injury and reconstructive surgery to Williams earlier this season.
“It took me about four months to get back on the ice [after surgery],” Williams said. “When we came back we focused more on lifts as we probably won’t be doing triple throws or jumps this season. And we just got a [triple] twist last week. We’ve done well to come together.”
Reagan Moss and Jakub Galbavy placed fourth with 46.64 points.
Confident Fegan Jumps on Top in Junior Men’s Event
“Confident, calm, ready and focused.” That’s how Aleksandr Fegan described his feelings heading into the 2024 U.S. Championships.
Skating his short program to the iconic “Bolero,” the New Jersey skater turned in a nearly flawless performance. His personal-best score of 71.00, which obliterated his previous personal best by nearly seven points, included a triple toe loop-triple loop combination in the middle of the program that generated 10.99 points.
“It was nice,” he said. “I was struggling with it at practice and in preparation for the event, but I was able to pull it off today.”
He also delivered Level 4 marks on his spins and step sequence.
Following Fegan and skating last in the 20-man field, Colorado’s Beck Strommer turned in a captivating program of his own to finish second with 66.50 points.
Strommer, who medaled in both of his Junior Grand Prix events last fall, landed a triple flip-triple toe loop combination for 10.71 points. His only hiccup came on a triple Lutz, in which he fell on the attempt.
“Overall it was good,” said Strommer, who trains in Pennsylvania. “The audience was behind me so that’s always a good sign. It was a little bit disappointing because I had been skating so very well in practice all week, so it was a little bit annoying to make that mistake. But I fought back, had some good spin levels, had a good PCS score, so overall good.”
Nicholas Brooks, performing to a jam titled “Tank” by the Seatbelts, popped his opening triple Axel, but rallied with strong jumps and spins the rest of the way to finish with 65.81 points.
Brooks, who trains in Colorado Springs and won the 2024 Pacific Coast Sectional Singles Final, landed a triple flip-triple toe loop and received Level 3s and 4s for his spins and step sequence.
New Jersey’s Kirk Haugeto sits fourth with 64.61 points.
Jarmoc and Witkowski Lead Novice Pairs
Less than one point separates the novice pairs leaders after Tuesday morning’s short program.
Sofia Jarmoc and Luke Witkowski nailed their double Axels to help secure the top spot with 40.62 points.
Baylen Taich and Michael Chapa posted a score of 39.85 for second place. They earned an event-best element score of 5.32 points for their lasso lift.
The other two teams in the field also remain within striking distance of the leaders with Milada Kovar and Nickolai Apter ranking third with 37.86 points.
Novice events are being held at the U.S. Championships for the first time since 2019.
Robertson and Cornwell Take Slight Lead in Novice Ice Dance
Jasmine Robertson and Cooper Cornwell, who train in Novi, Michigan, swept the two pattern dances — the Starlight Waltz and the Rocker Foxtrot.
Their combined score of 46.84 is closely contested by the teams of Michelle Deych and Ryan Hu, 45.26; Ja Yi Kirwan and Drake Tong, 43.18; and Anaelle Kouevi and Yann Homawoo, 43.03.
The junior women kick off the competition on Wednesday with their short program. Medals will then we awarded in the junior men’s, pairs and ice dance events as well as the novice pairs and ice dance events.
Follow live, view streaming information and more by checking out the 2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships event page.