Max Aaron wins U.S. junior men’s title

Max Aaron won the junior men's title at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Two nights ago, Madeline Aaron won the novice pairs title with her partner Max Settlage. Last night, her big brother Max won the junior men’s title in front of a supportive crowd in Greensboro, N.C.

The eighteen year-old champion moved up from second place after the Sunday’s short program with a strong performance that included two triple Axel attempts.

“It’s been tough,” Aaron said of the twenty-four hours preceding the competition. “My sister won [the previous night], and I wanted to do what she was able to do. (Our family) was in the family room back at the hotel, and I said congratulations to her and went to bed.”

The Aaron family still has unfinished business in Greensboro, however. In addition to both Madeline and Max being invited to skate in Sunday’s Exhibition of Champions, older sister Molly still has to compete in the senior pairs division beginning Thursday.

“My parents were worn out before yesterday, maybe even before we got here,” Aaron joked. “My dad stayed home and worked, and got here at the last minute. This is the first time that we are all actually staying the entire week since we usually go back home to go to school, but this time we get to stay to skate on Sunday.”

After opening his Vivaldi program with a triple Axel-double toe loop combination- the only one of the evening, Aaron nailed five more to seal his victory. The only mistake in the program was a fall on a second triple Axel attempt in the middle of the program, but the strength of his other jumps and high levels on spins propelled him to the win.

“That’s not the way I train the program every day, but I’m happy with the way it turned out,” Aaron confessed. “I wanted to skate two clean programs, and even though that didn’t happen, I feel like that perfect competition is getting closer and closer.”

As the reigning bronze medalist and a Junior Grand Prix Finalist, Aaron was the heavy favorite to win the event, and admitted to feeling the pressure of those expectations.

“This was a lot tougher than the fall competitions because US Nationals sets you up for next year,” Aaron admitted. “It’s almost as if a new season begins with Nationals, and everything else is forgotten. It’s so important to skate well at this competition.”

Aaron’s score of 188.67 points was more than four points better than the silver medalist’s, and sets him up nicely for a debut on the senior level next season.

“Winning the junior title can be a big boost heading into next season when I plan to compete as a senior,” Aaron explained. “We’re working on a quad, and we’re hoping to work that in, and I want to make sure that I can really step up and show that I can be a senior man.”

After winning the short program, nineteen year-old Alex Zahradnicek slipped to second place with a strong performance that included six triple jumps. However, the Junior Grand Prix competitor could not contend with the technical content in Aaron’s program without a triple Axel attempt.

“I’m was pretty happy with my skate, but I didn’t put everything out there that I wanted to do,” Zahradnicek said philosophically. “I’ve been training very well in practice over the last couple of months, and it was good to nail almost everything. There’s definitely room for improvement, but I’m looking forward to moving on to the next level as a senior.”

Zahradnicek’s Toccata and Fugue program was an elegant display of polished and patient choreography, and was perhaps his best freeskate of the season. For his efforts this week, Zahradnicek earned a competition total of 182.85 points.

“This season started off pretty slow with the freeskates, which is in stark contrast to last season when they were really great for me,” Zahradnicek lamented. “I’ve been working on keeping up the consistency of the program, and I know that when practices become consistent, that it will start to happen in competition.”

Though originally from Kennesaw, GA, Alexander Aiken relocated earlier this season to train with Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie in Charlotte, NC. As such, the Greensboro crowd latched on to the twenty year-old, and showed much excitement when their ‘local boy’ earned the bronze medal.

“It’s been fantastic,” Aiken said of the groundswell of support that he has received. “Today when I made a small mistake, the crowd’s response helped me pull through and put that mistake behind me. I’ve loved having all of my friends and family here. It’s really been a blast.”

After finishing in tenth place last season, Aiken had intentions of moving up to the senior level this season. However, once he relocated to train with Wylie, the decision was made to compete again on the junior level.

“I had a really tough year last season, and when I made the change to Paul, we talked about going senior,” Aiken recalled. “We decided that since I made so many changes- in my training base, my coaching, and where I live, that I should stay junior another year to work on some consistency issues. The thought was that it would be better for me to try to get a medal to get my name out there so people could see the changes that I have made. Next season, however, I will definitely move up to the senior level.”

Aiken, a powerhouse of a skater, also landed six triple jumps in his Once Upon a Time in Mexico freeskate, and earned a new personal best of 179.94 in his third trip to the US Championships on the junior level.

“It wasn’t exactly what I wanted today,” Aiken said of his program, “but overall, the elements that I did put out there were pretty strong. It is a definite improvement over last year, so I’m pretty happy with everything.”

Finishing in fourth place with the pewter medal was nineteen year-old Steven Evans, the 2009 US Novice silver medalist. Evans was shaky on the landing of several of his jumps, falling on a triple Lutz, but used superior component skills to propel him to the podium. His total score of 173.08 points allowed him to hold his position from the short program.

The youngest skater in the junior men’s competition, Emmanuel Savary, finished in fifth place overall but fourth in the freeskate. At just thirteen years old, the 2010 US Novice silver medalist stood up on seven triple jumps, and score an impressive 170.56 points in the competition.

The Pacific Coast Sectional Champion Phillip Warren (17) finished in sixth place, while David Wang (16) and Harrison Choate (17) finished in seventh and eighth respectively.

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