by Doris Spicer Pulaski
(23 January 2013) After his free skate today, Vincent Zhou, 12, of the All Year FSC, skated to the Kiss and Cry. On the way, he picked up a top hat that someone in the audience had thrown to him, and wore it while he waited for his scores to be displayed. He couldn’t stop smiling. But before he sat down, he tipped his hat to the crowd and the coaches who had supported him.
Zhou may have won the 2013 U.S. Nationals Junior Men’s competition with a total score of 205.26, and the free skate with a score of 138.95 , but he is still a regular kid.
Of course the 2012 Novice Men’s champion was thrilled to win the junior men’s title on his first attempt. As Zhou said at the press conference following his first place finish in the free skate, “This is great, and I'm really excited... I'm running out of words, but I'm just really excited to be Junior Men's Champion. I think it’s great.”
His age showed a bit though when he was asked, “Vincent, Could you tell us anything you did to work on the character of your program, and did you go back maybe and look at Kurt Browning’s “Casablanca” on Youtube or somewhere?” The student of Tammy Gambill answered, “I watched that, and I watched him like pouring imaginary wine…. This program certainly took a lot of work. I have to thank my choreographer Justin Dillon, he did an amazing job…and also it just takes a lot of practice doing it, running it over and over again, and working on it to get the character. Also, I watched the movie a lot of times, and that helps too. Except I skipped the kissing parts.”
Zhou is so young that he does not even meet the age requirements to compete at the 2013 Junior Worlds competition, but he was old enough to fill the shoes of Humphrey Bogart, who played the role of Rick in “Casablanca,” straightening his bowtie as the “Casablanca” romantic theme, “As Time Goes By,” played. The Palo Alto preteen skated a gruelling routine that placed five of his eight jumping passes in the bonus part of the program, with his hardest element, a triple Lutz-triple toe combination the very last jump before his final change-foot combination. The only slipup in his routine was a call for under-rotation on the second half of his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. Zhou’s command and control of his jump landings were particularly impressive.
Second place in the free skate, and the silver medal overall, was earned by Shotaro Omori, of the Los Angeles FSC , who had finished first in the short program. Omori skated to “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” by Rachmaninoff. Omori is also a student of Tammy Gambill, and was overjoyed with his silver medal. His free skate was not easy for him. He fell on his first triple Axel attempt, and popped his second triple axel to a single. However, the determined seventeen-year old never gave up on his program, completing all the rest of his elements, although he did receive an edge call on a triple lutz and an under-rotation call on the triple toe in his triple Salchow-triple toe combination. He scored a total of 189.25 points to place second.
At the press conference, Omori was asked, “ Shotaro, it would have been easy for you after the fall on the triple axel, to just kind of give up , you know maybe the title would have been out of reach at that point, but you still fought through the program. What was your mindset when that happened? How were you able to keep fighting so well?”
“Well I wasn't really thinking about the title or anything, and I just wanted to come here and just set a goal for myself to push through any obstacle, and so I’m happy I was able to do that,” replied the newly minted junior men’s silver medalist.
When asked, “Shotaru, you missed the competition last year by not qualifying through sectionals. Then tell me about how that affected you in your training and getting a little bit more hungry for this season,” Omori credited his new success to his coach Tammy Gambill, “I think well last season when I didn't make it to Nationals I was really disappointed, and for me, I sort of thought that a change was necessary, and I've always thought that Tammy Gambill has always been a great coach, and so I decided to switch to her and I think the change is definitely a good move.”
Vincent Zhou agreed, “She's a great coach. I think she forms a bond with her students really easily, and she pushes us to do our best always, and that why all her students are successful."
Even Nathan Chen, the 2012 U.S. Nationals Junior Men’s champion, seemed happy with his bronze medal, a good result for a skater who has battled injury and illness this year. Chen only finished fourth in the free skate with a score of 117.71, but his total score of 181.31 was enough for third place overall.
The student of Rafael Arutunian, Nadia Kanaeva, and Vera Arutunian skated to “The Three Musketeers” soundtrack by Paul Haslinger.
As Chen remarked “I just want to say like congratulations to all of us. We all did awesome, like everybody just did the best they could, and it turned out real well.”
The bronze is not Chen’s usual placement. When asked, “Nathan, this is an unfamiliar position for you. You’ve been national champion I think four years… five years… now in a row …, can you explain how is this experience different for you, and what do you think you can take from this in moving forward in your career?”
The philosphical thirteen-year old responded, “It's a great experience. There's always wins and losses in every skating career, in any sports career, so I I think that it’s great to push through it and like know what it feels like… I think it’s a good thing for me.”
The podium was a very happy group, but perhaps the happiest skater was Jimmy Ma, of the SC of New York, who is coached by former World Champion Elaine Zayak. Ma skated to “Hearts of Courage, Lacrimosa Dominae” by Two Steps From Hell, and felt honored just to be on the same podium with Zhou, Omori, and Chen.
The silver medalist from the 2012 Eastern Sectionals scored 117.71 to finish third in the free skate, and 176.09 points total to claim the pewter medal.
Ma had completed all his elements for positive grades of execution, and even managed to earn level 4 on two of his spins, a goal that had eluded him in the past. Zayak was celebrating, amazed at her student’s performance, asking, “How did you do that?,” and obviously couldn’t have been more proud Ma commented about the general celebration, “Towards the end of the free skate, when I was jumping, of course I heard them. The things was that coming into this competition, I wasn't expecting as much as what happened. I just wanted to come out here, and stay solid, but obviously the crowd motivates you, and skating in the last group with these guys… really you know, you have to step it up. It really did affect the way I skated and my mindset going into this"
Jordan Moeller, of the Northern Ice SC, finished fifth with a total score of 161.02, while Jay Yostanto of the SC of New York, finished sixth overall with a score of 159.25.
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