COLUMBUS, Ohio – There was no doubt who won the building.
But it was a bit surprising the judges didn’t agree with the crowd’s assessment of Amber Glenn, who earned a standing ovation for her high-energy short program Thursday night at the Prevagen U.S. Championships.
Despite a notable mistake on her final spin and unimpressive execution of another, defending champion Isabeau Levito managed first place (75.38 points) over Glenn (74.98). Both were comfortably ahead of third place Clare Seo (67.41).
Glenn’s fiery command of clean skating led to her best short program finish in nine appearances at senior nationals. Her previous best had been fourth, even though she had skated well in several others.
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“In the past, it was actually quite the opposite,” Glenn said. “I would have a great short program and then falter in the free skate.
“Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve really made a change to that. Now I’m just trying to have both on a par with what I can do.”
Glenn, 24, dressed in a black jumpsuit limned in glitter, was all energy and passion even before she began skating the 2 minute, 50-second program to “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a song that would work in a horror movie. The intensity of her expression at the end underscored that feeling.
“Sometimes I attack too much and go too hard,” Glenn admitted. “I have to find a good balance between having that attack and also having a certain calmness, which can be rather difficult when skating to something so exciting.”
The contrast between the tenor of her program and Levito’s was stark. Levito’s called for understated, almost delicate movement to the song, “Nella Fantasia,” from “The Mission.”
It was a debut performance, with Levito having decided to dump a Middle Eastern-themed “snake” program after it went badly at the December Grand Prix Final. The plaintive mood of Nella Fantasia was more in her balletic wheelhouse.
“I felt there was so much potential to it, and I was a little unhappy with how I was performing to it,” Levito said of the snake program. “I decided to give myself more time to work on that style of dance and go in with a different program for nationals because this is such an important competition.”
Levito won both the technical and component scores by small margins. Two of her triple jumps had higher base value than Glenn’s, but Glenn executed hers with more authority.
Earlier this season, Glenn had become the fourth U.S. woman to land a triple Axel in international competition. She hit another two months later. Both times, the excitement of an achievement overwhelmed her, and she badly botched the second half of each free skate.
She does not fear that happening again in Friday night’s free skate.
“That was a very once-in-a-career moment,” Glenn said of her first clean triple Axel after more than a dozen failures the past three seasons.
“Until there’s a new jump I attempt in competition, I don’t have to really worry about that exact situation.”
Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.