Winning the pairs short program was enough for Emily Chan and Spencer Howe at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The duo, who had been sidelined all season while Howe recovered from a torn labrum in his shoulder, scored 65.86 points on Thursday to sit atop a crowded leaderboard in Columbus, Ohio. But hours later, Chan and Howe withdrew from the remainder of the competition so that he could continue his recovery from the surgery last May.
“Tonight was a big success for us, and a huge milestone to our comeback,” Howe said in a statement, “but we feel we want to take this time to continue to get healthy and set ourselves up for success.”
Chan and Howe could still compete at the world championships in March in Montreal, where the U.S. will send three teams. But they will need to file a petition, and U.S. Figure Skating said Chan and Howe had signaled that is their intention.
Their withdrawal from nationals meant Ellie Kam and Danny O'Shea, who were right behind with 64.57 points, moved into first place heading into the free skate Saturday. Katie McBeath and Daniil Parkman were a surprising second with 64.21 points.
The women's competition is shaping up as a dual between Amber Glenn and defending champion Isabeau Levito.
Glenn briefly took the lead Thursday night when she landed her triple flip-triple toe loop combination along with a double axel and triple loop for a career-best 74.98 points. The 24-year-old yelped in surprise and delight when her score was read in the kiss-and-cry area, putting Glenn on top of the leaderboard as Levito stepped onto the ice.
The 16-year-old, countering Glenn's speed and power with grace and elegance, was similarly flawless on her jumping passes. It was an impressive rebound from Grand Prix Final, where Levito struggled mightily in her short program, and her score of 75.38 points would have put her third in the world this season if it was an international competition.
“I have a new short program and hadn't competed it yet," Levito said, “and I'm really happy how I skated today.”
In the rhythm dance, four-time and reigning American champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates showed exactly why they are also the defending world champs. Their program, set to music from the rock band Queen, scored 92.17 points, putting them well ahead of Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko in second and Caroline Green and Michael Parsons in third.
“Queen is such a legendary band. So incredible,” Chock said. “We’ve loved their music. It’s as close to getting that concert feeling as we’d get. It gives me chills to hear how incredible they are. We love that music.”
The American pairs contingent has been on the rise after years of struggling on the international stage, and that culminated with Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier winning the world title two years ago and a silver medal last season.
But with Knierim and Frazier taking the year off, and their future uncertain, nationals became a free-for-all competition.
McBeath and Parkman staked their claim in their first U.S. championships since becoming a team last year, holding onto a throw triple lutz to finish their short program set to “Requiem for a Dream" and post the early high score. It held until the final group, when Kam and O'Shea nudged them aside despite a fall on their throw triple loop.
It was Chan and Howe, though, who were coming off a fifth-place finish at worlds and had momentum on their side before his injury, who topped them all. Their program, set to music by Elvis Presley, was hardly their best performance but nevertheless earned an appreciative response from a large crowd inside Nationwide Arena.
Turns out that was the only opportunity fans would get to see Chan and Howe this weekend.
“When we got here,” Chan said, “it was a reminder of what it's like to be in a competition environment. It's been a while since we've been in a big arena. So it was really nice to be here and feel the energy of the crowd, and by the time we got out there for our performances, we were both so supportive of each other. We knew we would be out there together, so we set back in the comfort of each other, and we did our best to work together in the moment.”
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