Deep US figure skating team eyes medals at Grand Prix Final

There is a unique flavor to the return of the Grand Prix Final, arguably the most prestigious event in figure skating after the Olympics and world championships, following two years of pandemic-related cancellations.

It’s a decidedly Japanese and American flavor.

Whether it’s high-flying axel king Ilia Malinin in the men’s competition, the balletic stylings of 15-year-old Isabeau Levito in the women’s event, world champs Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in pairs or Olympic ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the U.S. is sending perhaps its strongest team in years to Italy for the finale of the Grand Prix season.

The competition begins Thursday at Torino Palavela in Turin and concludes Saturday.

“I look at our roster for the U.S. and it’s very exciting,” said Frazier, who along with Knierim won both of their Grand Prix assignments at Skate America and the MK John Wilson Trophy. “It’s always a privilege to share a competition with Maddie and Evan. It’s incredible what Ilia is doing. Isabeau for the women. And it’s great to have another senior U.S. team come with us — we have two in pairs in the final. That’s very exciting for us.”

Two of the powerhouses in figure skating — Russia and China — did not compete on the Grand Prix circuit this season, the former due to a ban as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine and the latter because of its COVID-19 plight.

That created a vacuum in figure skating that’s been filled by the Japanese, Americans and several European rivals.

“Anyone can paint any picture they want, the Russians or not, this or that,” Frazier said, “but everyone is working very hard to get to this point. I’m very excited to share the ice with the rest of my team.”


Malinin, who turned 18 this week, made history at Skate America when he landed the first quad axel during a Grand Prix event. He went on to win with a season-best score of 280.37 points, a half-point ahead of Japanese rival Shoma Uno, then completed a sweep of his Grand Prix assignments at Grand Prix Espoo in Finland.

“I mean, this was a very successful Grand Prix season,” Malinin said. “We put a lot of work into it to have good results.”

Uno, the reigning world champ, has a silver medal and two bronzes from the Grand Prix Final. But he’s no longer stuck behind Olympic champion Nathan Chen and countryman Yuzuru Hanyu, both of whom have stepped away from competing, which gives the three-time Olympic medalist his best chance at finally claiming gold.

Uno leads a four-member Japanese contingent that includes Kao Miura, Sota Yamamoto and Shun Sato, while Daniel Grassl is sure to have home support as the first Italian man to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.


The biggest obstacle to Levito standing atop the podium in Italy will likewise be the Japanese contingent, led by Olympic bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto and including Mai Mihara and Rinka Watanabe.

Levito, who is known for her exceptional artistry, finished second behind Sakamoto in her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America. She added a second silver medal behind Mihara at the MK John Wilson Trophy.

Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, who won the Grand Prix de France, and Kim Ye-lim of South Korea also are in the field.


Knierim and Frazier were a bit shaky in winning Skate America, then much crisper at MK John Wilson Trophy. But their score in England was only the second best in the Grand Prix season behind Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan, who took second behind the Americans at the world championships this year.

“What I’ve learned is that the training and repetition that we put in last year, and the hard work we’ve put in since England, we’re very prepared and ready to compete,” said Knierim, who along with Frazier are the first Americans to win two Grand Prix events in one season and the first to qualify for the Grand Prix Final since 2015.

Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe also will represent the U.S., while Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps will compete for Canada. Italy has two teams in Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini, and Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii.


Chock and Bates struggled early after a grueling Olympic season that included a team silver medal in Beijing, though they did win Skate America and were second at the NHK Trophy. They’ve said all along their biggest goal is a world title, which narrowly has escaped them on a few occasions, and winning the Grand Prix Final would set them up nicely.

They’ll have to beat Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who had the best score this season, and fellow Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker give the Americans a second medal shot while Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy and Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Britain round out the field.


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