Ava Ziegler wins NHK Trophy for historic U.S. figure skating breakthrough

Ava Ziegler

Ava Ziegler

Ava Ziegler pulled off arguably the wildest breakthrough victory by a U.S. figure skater in Grand Prix Series history on Saturday.

Ziegler, a 17-year-old from New Jersey, jumped from fifth after Friday’s short program to win the free skate and the title at NHK Trophy in Japan by a mere 1.77 points over countrywoman Lindsay Thorngren.

Thorngren, the short program leader, went over time in each of her programs, costing her a total of two points that made the difference.

Ziegler, ninth in her senior U.S. Championships debut last January, broke the U.S. women’s record for quickest ascent to a Grand Prix title — in just her second Grand Prix start.

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Ziegler, whose mom, Tricia, was fifth at the 1995 U.S. Championships, also became the first U.S. woman to win a Grand Prix without previously making a Grand Prix podium.

Ziegler landed seven triple jumps Saturday for the top free skate score by an American this season.

She now ranks second in the U.S. by best total score this season behind national champion Isabeau Levito after going into NHK ranked sixth in the country, according to SkatingScores.com.

Two women will be named to the world championships team after January’s nationals. Levito, the lone American woman to qualify for the six-skater Grand Prix Final in two weeks, is the clear favorite for one of them.

Ziegler and Thorngren separated themselves from the rest of the pack this weekend. It was the first U.S. women’s one-two in a Grand Prix since 2016 Skate America (Ashley Wagner, Mariah Bell) and the first at a Grand Prix other than Skate America since the March 1997 Grand Prix Final (Tara Lipinski, Michelle Kwan).

Thorngren, also 17 and from New Jersey, made her first Grand Prix podium in her fourth career Grand Prix start.

She came into NHK with a stronger resume than Ziegler, having won the 2020 U.S. junior title, taken bronze at the 2022 Junior Worlds and placed fifth or sixth at the last three senior nationals.

She said Saturday that she sprained an ankle in practice before Friday’s short, according to the International Skating Union.

Also Saturday, Germans Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nikita Volodin won the pairs’ title for a second consecutive week in their first two Grand Prix starts as a team.

Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson delivered Great Britain’s first Grand Prix title in any discipline, overtaking world silver medalists Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy by .63 in ice dance. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

They prevailed by 12.2 points over Italians Lucrezia Beccari and Matteo Guarise and now rank second in the world this season by best score behind Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps.

The Grand Prix Series concludes with the Grand Prix Final in two weeks, live on Peacock.

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