Photo credit Melanie Heaney/U.S. Figure Skating
History was made on the second day of competition at the 2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Columbus, Ohio, as Leah Neset and Artem Markelov clinched their third consecutive U.S. junior ice dance title.
They became the only U.S. athletes to win three junior U.S. championships.
Medals were also awarded in the junior men’s and pairs events. Olivia Flores and Luke Wang dominated the junior pairs event en route to their first title. In the junior men’s event, Lucius Kazanecki rebounded from a fifth-place finish in the short program, roaring back in the free skate to earn his first U.S. Championship medal.
Cleo Park secured the lead after the short program of the junior women’s event while in the novice events, Sofia Jarmoc and Luke Witkowski earned the pairs title and Jasmine Robertson and Cooper Cornwell claimed the ice dance title.
Neset and Markelov Dominate Junior Ice Dance Field
Leah Neset and Artem Markelov etched their names in the U.S. Figure Skating record book by winning their third consecutive junior ice dance title in dominating fashion.
The Colorado Springs-based team posted personal-best scores in the free dance, 109.08, and overall, 184.11, becoming the first U.S. athletes in any discipline to win three U.S. junior titles.
Breaking their previous overall best by more than 21 points, they performed a clean free dance to “Anytime Anywhere” by Sarah Brightman and “Cry” by Thomas Bergerson. They secured Level 4 marks on three elements, including their combination lift, which scored more than 14 points, the highest mark of the competition.
They won the competition by 25.14 points and continued their winning streak, having won every event they’ve competed at this season.
“This means a lot,” Neset said of the victory and making history. “I felt like we skated our hearts out, and I think that’s what made it the most special.”
“I’m very thankful for the journey,” Markelov said.
The skaters entered the free dance with a huge lead, and focused on the performance aspect of the free dance.
“We just wanted to show what we’ve been working on and just have fun,” Markelov said.
First-year team Yahli Pedersen and Jeffrey Chen vaulted into the silver medal position, starting off strong with their one foot turns sequence, and never letting up. They finished with a free dance score of 95.09 and a total score of 158.97.
They performed to songs from The Phantom of the Opera.
The team, which trains in Canton, Michigan, has enjoyed an amazing first year together, placing at both of their ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series events and qualifying for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
The U.S. Championships marked Pedersen’s fifth overall competition in her career.
“Everything is new and exciting and I’m just taking it all in,” Pedersen said. “Having Jeffrey obviously helps a lot.”
Chen, meanwhile, competed as a senior ice dancer last season, but returned to junior competition this season.
“I don’t think it’s a step back for me,” Chen said. “I’m still learning a lot, still progressing.”
Elliana Peal and Ethan Peal captured the bronze medal with the third-best free dance score of the segment, 91.15, and an overall score of 152.10. Their free dance score marks a new U.S. personal best. As a result, they jumped up to the podium after taking fifth in the rhythm dance.
“We went into the free dance with the mindset of having nothing to lose,” Elliana said of their program to music from The Lord of the Rings. “It helped us push through.”
Jenna Hauer and Benjamin Starr locked up the pewter medal with an overall score of 151.00.
They secured Level 4s on three elements, but fell on their final element.
"Today isn’t exactly how we wanted to show it, but that doesn’t take away our love for it at all,” Hauer said. “It didn’t quite go right, but this isn’t the end for us. It’s just one day and we’re looking forward to continuing to perform this program. I just love it.”
Flores and Wang Take the Force to Top of Junior Pairs Podium
Short program leaders Olivia Flores and Luke Wang could feel the energy building inside Nationwide Arena as they seamlessly transitioned from one element to the next in their winning free skate to a Star Wars theme.
“Then at the end, it just came together with that last bit of choreo,” Flores said.
The Colorado Springs-based team finished with a personal-best free skate score of 115.88, an overall personal-best score of 175.71 and the coveted gold medal. The won the event by nearly 25 points and broke their overall personal best by more than 21 points.
“Last season when we came to our first nationals, someone told us I want to see you guys on top next year,” Wang said. “At the time we thought, is that possible? Then to be here is crazy.”
The team performed nearly flawless all week. Their free skate highlights included landing triple Salchows, throw triple Salchows and Level 4 lifts.
They entered the event having had a prosperous Junior Grand Prix season in which they placed twice and qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final.
“Just being able to go out there and to have the opportunities like we did were so amazing and we are grateful for that because we learned so much at every event,” Wang said.
“All the people we are surrounded by provided inspiration,” Flores said. “We were able to bring back positivity and motivation that helped boost us.”
Naomi Williams and Lachlan Lewer, who also train in Colorado Springs, repeated as silver medalists with a personal-best overall score of 151.24. Their free skate score of 102.60 was also a personal best.
Their clean free skate to music from the Miss Saigon soundtrack included a triple twist, two Level 4 lifts and a Level 4 spin.
“It’s such a huge relief,” Lewer said. “Having Naomi injured (torn ligament in foot) for like half the year and these last 10 weeks we have been training to get back to where we were before. That program just showed our hard work paying off. We didn’t even think nationals was in the picture a few months ago.”
Williams credited Lewer for maintaining a positive and encouraging attitude during that difficult time.
Sydney Cooke and Matthew Kennedy, who train in Delaware, secured the bronze medal with an overall score of 134.40. Their free skate score of 84.16 was fourth best in the segment.
“It wasn’t the skate we were looking for, but we are happy with how we ended up anyway,” Kennedy said. “There’s room to improve.”
“This is our first season, so it’s a great jump off point going into next season as seniors,” Cooke said.
Adele Zheng and Andy Deng claimed the pewter medal with an overall score of 129.56, including 85.57 in the free skate – both new personal bests.
They jumped up from sixth after the short program to third in the free skate with their performance to music from Phantom of the Opera.
“I’m feeling pretty good about it considering the training time we’ve had together,” Zheng said. “There were definitely some mistakes, but nothing too big.”
Timing is Everything for Junior Men’s Champ Kazanecki
Lucius Kazanecki didn’t have a triple Axel in his repertoire less than a month before the 2024 U.S. Championships.
In Columbus, he cleanly landed one each in the short program and free skate enroute to an overall score of 202.97 and the junior men’s title.
“I learned it about two-and-a-half weeks ago,” said Kazanecki, who now trains at the same facility in Reston, Virginia, as Grand Prix Final and U.S. senior champion Ilia Malinin. “I got so nervous – in the practices it wasn’t working very well and in the warmup I was scared. I thought I have to land every one of them in the practice if I want to make sure I land them in the competition.”
Kazanecki, who sat fifth after the short program, landed eight triple jumps in his lyrical free skate to music from The White Crow, including three in combination. All of his spins and footwork received Level 4, and he was rewarded with a free skate score of 138.46, which along with his total score are both new personal bests. He said he likes to synch his movements with the piano notes.
“It felt great,” he said. “I almost fell on my last jump (triple Lutz) because I was so nervous. I loved finishing and hearing all the cheers.”
Taira Shinohara, much like Kazanecki, saved his best for the free skate, rallying from sixth after the short program to secure second in the free skate with 133.97 points and second overall with a score of 198.08.
Performing to “Sparkle” by RADWIMPS, Shinohara nailed an opening triple Axel-double Axel-double Axel sequence worth a whopping 17.31 points. The 2024 Midwestern junior champion followed that up with a triple Axel. He landed a total of six triple jumps.
“I missed it [that combination] in the short so I wanted a real good redemption,” said Shinohara, who trains in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. “I was focused on what’s been working for me like stepping straight and jumping in a certain direction. I was more focused on the technique rather than how much the free skate mattered in terms of points.”
In the past two months, he said he’s been working with an ice dance coach who has helped the flow and connection of his choreography.
Short program leader Aleksandr Fegan finished as the bronze medalist with 194.95 points. He placed fifth in the free skate with a segment score of 123.95, performing to music from “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Both scores are new personal bests.
Fegan popped a triple Lutz early in the program but rallied with a triple loop-double Axel-double loop sequence in the second half of the program, Level 4 spins and a quality choreographic sequence.
“I feel very relieved that I made it on the podium because I made a big mistake in my program which I thought would cost me a lot,” he said.
Beck Strommer earned the pewter medal with 193.28 points.
“I’m frustrated with myself,” he said. “I’ve been skating perfectly in practice, so it’s frustrating to not skate my best. Pressure and nerves got the best of me.”
All four skaters are first-time medalists at the U.S. Championships.
Park Takes Love Story to Short Program Lead
Despite competing at her first U.S. Championships, Cleo Park didn’t show any sign of nerves, claiming the short program lead in the junior women’s event with a new personal best.
The California native posted a score of 60.81, which included an opening triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination that generated 10.18 points. All of her spins as well as her step sequence received Level 4s.
Skating to “Dans La Nuit” by Sarah Brightman, Park conveyed the story of a woman whose lover is far way, and how she dreams about him and them being reunited someday.
“It felt great to skate at this rink because it’s so big and so nice,” she said.
Skating in the first group, Emilia Nemirovsky stormed from the gate, landing her first three jumping passes en route to a score of 59.01. Her opening triple loop-triple toe loop earned the Michigan native 11.43 points.
Nemirovsky, performed to “The New Season” and “Nina’s Dream” by Tchaikovsky, was the Midwestern Sectional Singles novice champion.
Her only miscue came on her camel spin, which she received a Level 1. Her other two spins were Level 4 quality, and she finished the segment in second.
Right behind, Logan Higase-Chen posted a score of 58.72 with her short program to music from the La La Land soundtrack.
The skater, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado who qualified for the U.S. Championships by placing first at the 2024 Midwestern Sectional Singles Final, under-rotated the second jump in her opening triple-triple combination, but was flawless after that.
“I most enjoyed my step sequence at the end; it’s fun, high energy,” Higase-Chen said.
Jiaying Ellyse Johnson finished fourth with 58.35 points.
Jarmoc and Witkowski 'Rule the World' in Novice Pairs Event
Sofia Jarmoc and Luke Witkowski preserved their short program lead by winning the free skate and the overall novice pairs title.
The team from Boston, skating to “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” edged Illinois-based skaters Baylen Taich and Michael Chapa 113.94 to 112.59 for the gold. A highlight of Jarmoc and Witkowski’s program that scored 73.32 came toward the end with their double Axel-single Axel sequence.
Taich and Chapa received the highest-scoring element of the competition with their Level 3 step in lasso lift, totaling 72.24 in the segment.
Milada Kovar and Nickolai Apter claimed the bronze with a total score of 108.06, with Jolena Grohne and Reede Lunt taking home pewter with a two-day total of 104.09.
Robertson and Cornwell Take Beatles to Top of Charts
Jasmine Robertson and Cooper Cornwell, who train in Novi, Michigan, won the free dance and novice ice dance title, posting scores of 66.04 and 120.88, respectively.
They performed to a Beatles medley and secured Level 4 designations on three elements.
Michelle Deych and Ryan Hu, who also train in Novi, secured the silver medal with an overall score of 108.69. They recorded the highest-scoring element of the competition for their serpentine step sequence.
Anaelle Kouevi and Yann Homawoo earned the bronze medal with final total of 103.17, while Ja Yi Kirwan and Drake Tong claimed the pewter and a score of 97.73.
Junior competition wraps up tomorrow with the women’s free skate. Championship-level competition then begins with the pairs short program, rhythm dance and women’s short program.
Follow live, view streaming information and more by checking out the 2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships event page.