2011 Glacier Falls Summer Classic

The Glacier Falls Summer Classic took place this past week at Anaheim Ice in Anaheim, Calif., with more than 100 entries competing in the final U.S. Figure Skating monitoring competition of the summer season. Skaters traveled from all over the country, as well as Italy, Japan, Israel, and the Philippines, to take advantage of feedback from national and international level judges and technical specialists. Golden Skate’s Elvin Walker attended the competition for two days, and caught up with several of the entries.

Allison Timlen

Allison Timlen, 10th place 2011 U.S. Nationals junior ladies

Allison Timlen, 10th place 2011 U.S. Nationals junior ladies

Fifteen year-old Allison Timlen has been getting a lot of mileage on her programs this summer. Glacier Falls was her third competition in as many months—she competed in the Chesapeake Open in June and at Liberty in July.

“I want the skating officials to see my programs as much as possible,” she said. “I would like to compete internationally, and this is the best way to get them to notice you.”

Timlin, from the Baltimore area, has only been jumping for about six weeks, putting her behind many of the others she has been competing against.

“I was diagnosed with Kienbock’s disease, which essentially means that the bone in my wrist was dying due to lack of blood flow,” she explained. “I had surgery and had to wear a five pound cast on my left wrist for eight weeks.”

During her recovery, Timlen used the time to work on her skating skills.

“Because I wasn’t able to jump, I just spent a lot of time working on everything else that I could think of so that I could improve my skating,” she said. “I think that you can see that work in my programs.”

In being so far behind in her jump training, Timlen and her family have not yet had a family vacation this summer.

“We are going to go to Knotts Berry Farm while we are here in southern California,” Timlen shared. “At the end of the summer, we will be going to the Outer Banks for seven days before school starts.”

Timlen has taken to the feather in the hair trend that American Idol judge Steven Tyler made popular this year.

“I love Steven Tyler, and I thought it was really cool what he did with his hair,” she said. “I like to be different, and since I haven’t seen a lot of people with short hair and feathers, I thought I would give it a go.”

Michael Valdez and Courtney Hicks

Michael Valdez (competitor and friend of Hicks) Courtney Hicks

Courtney Hicks, 1st place 2011 U.S. Nationals junior ladies

This season, Courtney Hicks has added a few more weapons to her arsenal of already dangerous tricks.

“The (triple) flip-(triple) loop is new to me this season, and it’s probably easier for me than if I tried to put a toe loop on the end of the flip,” she said. “I’m standing up on the quadruple Salchow on most attempts, and I’ve tried it in competition.”

The risk of attempting the loop in the short program is one that Hicks is willing to take.

“If you land a triple-triple, it makes the whole program look better,” Hicks said. “Everything depends on the flip. If I land it with enough speed and in a good position, then I can do the triple loop. If it’s not perfect, then I just go for a double.”

On the presentation side, Hicks has been working with former World Champion Randy Gardiner to try to draw the audience in to her programs a bit more.

“(Coach) Nicks has been working with me to look up at the audience more,” she said. “I started to work with (Gardiner) to become more theatrical. I’m getting more comfortable with all of this, and it is making me a stronger skater.”

Hicks will travel to Brisbane, Australia, for her first ever Junior Grand Prix event later this summer, and is looking forward to competing Down Under.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, and it makes sense that I will go there for a competition,” she said. “I really want to see a platypus.”

Many Golden Skate readers have asked about Hicks’ heritage, and it will come as no surprise that the junior champion has Russia in her blood.

“I’m a third generation American on my mother’s side,” said the high school sophomore. “My great grandparents are from Russia, but I am very proud to be an American.”

Caroline Zhang

Caroline Zhang, 12th place 2011 U.S. Championships ladies

Caroline Zhang, 12th place 2011 U.S. Championships ladies

After graduating from high school this spring, 18 year-old Caroline Zhang found herself with something that she doesn’t ever remember having—free time.

“About four days after graduation, I realized that I had so much free time that I didn’t know what to do with,” she said. “I’ve been playing video games a lot, but I’ve been really focused on my skating.”

Zhang has decided to take a year away from school altogether to see what she can do in skating without academics nipping at her blades.

“Skating means so much to me, so I decided to give myself a full year to dedicate myself to nothing more than skating,” said the former junior world champion. “I want to skate the best that I can, and the best way to do that is to be well trained.”

Zhang’s rededication to the sport was evident in Anaheim, as she skated with more attack than in recent competitions. Though the double Axel is still problematic for the two-time U.S. medalist, her other jumps look stronger.

“I want to get positive grades of execution on my jumps this season, so I am a little disappointed that didn’t happen here,” she admitted. “I’m really working on my consistency, and up until this competition, I haven’t missed a triple loop in a long time.”

Presently Zhang is unsure of what her future holds, but she is keeping her options open.

“I used to want to be a vet, but I don’t think that I could handle seeing animals suffer so much,” she said. “I also thought about being a surgeon for a while, but I hear that you have no life. I’ll probably go to school somewhere close to home so that I can continue to train, but I think that I would ultimately like to end up at John Hopkins.”

Carly Gold and Gracie Gold

Carly Gold and Gracie Gold

Gracie Gold, 4th place 2010 U.S. Championships, novice ladies 

Like 2010 U.S. junior ladies champion Agnes Zawadzki, 16 year-old Gracie Gold hopes to emerge from the shadow of not qualifying for the national championships in one season to winning the junior title the next.

“After winning the pewter medal as a novice in 2010, I started to skate at a pretty high level,” she said. “As Sectionals approached, I knew that there were going to be some strong girls competing, and I think that I let that get into my head. So, I’ve started seeing a sports psychologist who knows more about figure skating which has given me a lot of confidence.”

That newfound confidence has translated in to one of the most buzzed about summer seasons in recent memory. Skating in three of the most high profile non-qualifying competitions (Liberty, Skate Detroit, and Glacier Falls), Gold has scored more than 150 points in each, and has hit huge jump such as her signature triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

“The triple Lutz and triple toe loop are both of my favorite jumps, and the combination is pretty easy if I have a good Lutz landing,” she admitted.

Gold has recently been added to the international selection pool of skaters, qualifying her for a possible international assignment this fall.

“I don’t have a lot of luck in getting international events, so for now, I am just going to focus on my continued development as a skater,” she said. “If I get to compete, I know that I will be ready to go, but I’m focusing on Regionals and Sectionals for now.”

Gold competes with her twin sister, Carly, who she admires for her better attitude and ability to recover from a mistake.

“Carly has amazing spread eagles and Ina Bauers,” Gold said. “This is the first year when we are competing on the same level for a while, and it’s been fun. We are on the same practices, and I think that it helps both of us in our skating.”

Gold will be a high school junior this fall, and is looking forward to Halloween this year.

“I am driving on a permit right now, but I get to take my license test on Halloween,” she said. “I’m really excited about that.”

Katarina Kulgeyko

Katarina Kulgeyko, 3rd 2011 U.S. Nationals junior ladies

Katarina Kulgeyko, 3rd  2011 U.S. Nationals junior ladies

San Diego’s Katarina Kulgeyko (pronounced Cool-gay-coh, not Katrina Gekko as she is quick to point out), skates to the beat of a different drum. From her black tights that have fins flowing from them to her sassy attitude, Kulgeyko is an original.

“I want to be an individual, and I really do try to be different,” she admitted. “I like wearing different costumes, skating to different music, and standing out. Don’t get me wrong, if I needed to wear a very classical costume for my program, I would, but I just prefer to be unique.

Kulgeyko’s parents are from Russia, she enlists the help of a Russian coach, and she speaks fluent Russian.

“I don’t want people to look at me and say, ‘Oh, she’s Russian’, or ‘She’s American’,” she said. “I want to them to watch my skating and not think about any of that.”

The fifteen year-old did spend part of the summer in Russia training with two time Olympian Vladimir Kotin.

“I got a lot of my choreography from him,” she said. “The jumps and spins were laid out, and he filled them in with everything else.”

Kulgeyko heads to Riga, Latvia, at the end of the month to skate in her first ever Junior Grand Prix event, and is looking forward to representing the United States.

“It will be a lot easier for me to get around there because I speak Russian,” she said. “I’m really excited about competing there, and am looking forward to the experience. I want to place in the top three and get another assignment.”

Kulgeyko and her coach decided to stick with the junior level domestically for another season to give her a chance to adjust to her new body.

“We knew that I was going to get taller because my parents are quite tall, so we decided that it would be best not to rush my development,” Kulgeyko explained. “I wanted to make sure that I got all of my jumps settled before I took that step up to the senior level. I’m working on not being so conservative on the ice, and learning how to embrace my new curves.”

When not thinking about figure skating, Kulgeyko has a passion for nail polish.

“I am a nail polish freak,”  she said with a laugh. “I have so much polish, and I love to paint them in different colors. I do my nails all the time.”

Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner, 6th place 2011 U.S. Championships

Ashley Wagner, 6th place 2011 U.S. Championships

“I got the sense that it’s now or never,”  Ashley Wagner said.

So, the former World Team member decided that she needed to make some changes. A little more than two months ago, she picked up and moved across the country to train with John Nicks in California.

“I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I was barely holding on to what I had as a skater, so I decided that I would go big or go home,” she explained. “I knew that I wanted a male coach—someone who wasn’t going to let me get away with taking it easy on days when I had a little ache or pain. I was already working with Phillip Mills on choreography, and Mr. Nicks’ name kept coming up. It just seemed like a natural fit.”

Nicks and Mills completely deconstructed Wagner as a skater—pushing her off ice work outs further than she had ever taken them, and refining just about everything that she had ever done on the ice.

“I knew that I needed to get in shape, and get in shape fast, so we started doing endurance exercises immediately,”  Wagner shared. “I was bulking up my muscle and toning my whole body while keeping the muscle lengthening exercises that I had already been doing.”

Mills, who studied ballet at the American Ballet Theater, took Wagner to task with her Black Swan inspired free skate. Ever the perfectionist, Mills wouldn’t allow his pupil to slack on quality.

“It was really intimidating at first, but I’ve grown to understand how important it is to have everything exact,”  Wagner said. “I love the program—the connection I have with the music and the intensity of character really fits who I am. The beginning of the program is soft and calm like the white swan, and then I go a little darker and crazy as the black swan. The music was something I knew that I had to skate to.”

The result is a much more refined skater who is much more pleasant to watch.

“I was always working so hard on the ice moving from one move to the next,”  she shared. “Now I am still working just as hard if not harder, but the result is a much calmer program that I think is a little more easy on the eyes.”

Wagner is settling in to her life in southern California quite well and though she misses her friends and family, she is enjoying her new home.

“I love the training atmosphere here, and it’s so inspiring to see skaters like Rockne Brubaker working so hard off the ice. He is a prime example of what an elite athlete should do to stay at a high level of performance,”  Wagner said. “Outside of the rink, I have to admit that I never used to be a beach girl, but it’s starting to grow on me.”

Karen Zhou

Karen Zhou, 3rd place 2011 Collegiate Championships

Karen Zhou, 3rd place 2011 Collegiate Championships

Though it has been almost three years since her last trip to the U.S. Championships, Karen Zhou is still plugging along.

“I have always told myself that when it isn’t fun anymore, I will stop,”  she said. “When I have a couple of days away from the rink, I miss it so much that I know that there is no way that I can stop now.”

Zhou, 19, is a full time student at the University of California-Irvine, and will graduate with her class in the spring of 2012 with a degree in Business. She is currently balancing school, a summer internship, and her training.

“I really enjoy the internship,”  she said. “I am with an investment firm in Newport Beach, and they are very flexible about my training. The internship and school help balance out my skating, and I think skating does the same thing for my schooling.”

With her hectic schedule, Zhou has decided to take on the responsibilities of being her own coach as well.

“When I need some help with my skating, I ask Igor Macypura to help me. We have the same technique to our jumps, so he is a good person to go to,”  she said. “I would like to skate with Rafael Arutunian on a regular basis, but he is up at Lake Arrowhead, which isn’t convenient with my schedule. So, I mostly train myself.”

Zhou also takes ownership of her choreography.

“Most of what I do is self choreographed, though I have some help from Kate McSwain.”

A few days before Glacier Falls, Zhou’s mother was dropping her off for practice when in a freak accident occurred.

“My mom was dropping me off at the rink and we were running behind schedule,”  she explained. “Since most of the competitors were already in town for the event, the parking lot was full, and my mom decided to drop me off at the front of the rink.”

What happened next could is like a movie of the week.

“I got out of the car to head to the rink, and as I was getting my stuff out of the car, my mom ran over my foot,”  she said with a laugh. “I fell down and screamed, and the tire is on my shin. Neither my mom nor I knew what to do, and the next thing I remember, my leg was free.”

Luckily for Zhou, the rink is equipped with a gym that is utilized by the local firefighters.

“Just as all of this is happening, the firefighters are showing up for their work outs,”  she said. “They turned on their lights and made sure that I was okay.”

After a trip to the doctor, Zhou learned that there were no breaks in the foot or leg, just some cuts and bruises. The very lucky skater needs just a five to seven day break before she is allowed to return to the ice.

“I want everyone to know that my mom is a wonderful person,”  she said with a laugh. “She didn’t do this on purpose. Accidents happen.”

Nix Phengsy and Coach Alex Chang

Nix Phengsy and Coach Alex Chang

Nix Phengsy, 3rd place 2011 U.S. Championships novice men

A quiet, shy type, 16 year-old Nix Phengsy goes about his business with little fanfare. It is on the ice when the high school junior comes to life. This season, fresh off of the novice level, Phengsy hopes to make a strong impression in his first year as a junior man.

“I have been working hard on the triple Axel,” he said. “I’ve also been trying to make everything move a little bit more through speed and carriage.”

A member of the international selection pool, Phengsy has yet to be assigned to an international competition. Coach Alex Chang doesn’t seem concerned.

“This is all a process,” Chang explained. “For (Phengsy) to be put into consideration for assignments is great, but we are really looking towards the future. Getting his name out there was the first step. Next season we really hope to start earning those assignments.”

One of the big things that Phengsy has had to learn this season was a camel change camel spin, something that he had never done before, but is a requirement on the junior level.

“Under the International Judging System (IJS), the boys have never had to do this spin up until (the junior level),” Chang said. “It’s been a bit of a challenge for him, but we’ve got it under control now.”

While waiting for football season to start, Phengsy has spent the summer curled up with a few good books.

“I’ve read books from a vampire series called Vampire Academy,” he said. “I also read Coraline.”

Douglas Razzano, 10th place U.S. Championships men

Douglas Razzano, 10th place U.S. Championships men

Douglas Razzano, 10th place 2011 U.S. Championships men

After performing far below his own expectations at the U.S. Championships for several years, 22 year-old Douglas Razzano had the breakthrough that he had been searching for last year in Greensboro.

“It was one of the best moments of my life,” Razzano said of finishing in fifth place in the short program. “I still get chills thinking about it.”

Razzano says that his mindset about skating changed last season, and that has made all of the difference in the world as an athlete.

“People always tell you to believe in yourself, but until you truly know that you can do it, it doesn’t matter,” he shared. “Once I started believing that I could make things happen, my whole life started to change. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

In Anaheim, Razzano chose not to compete with his trademark quadruple toe loop, but instead focused on the performance aspect of his programs.

“I am looking for international assignments, and my coach and I think that showing that my programs are prepared is the way to go,” he said. “I think it makes more sense to train to peak for the U.S. Championships, so I am pacing myself for now.”

Even without the quad Razzano, won the competition in Anaheim with the second highest men’s score of the season.

“I don’t train the quad on a daily basis anymore,” Razzano said. “I know that I can still do them, and pull it out every so often to make sure that it is still there. I just did one on Tuesday. But for now, I’m pacing myself.”

Back in May, Razzano, Adam Rippon, and former pairs skater Bianca Butler got together in Los Angeles for a little break from the daily grind.

“(Rippon) had never been to California for vacation, so we did all of the typical southern California things,” Razzano said. “We went to Hollywood and to the beach, and had a great time.”

These days, when he’s not in the rink, Razzano can usually be found in the lake water skiing.

“In Arizona, you try to stay as cool as possible,” he said.

His goals this season are simple—to make the podium at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

“After last season, I can truly see this happening.”

Jason Brown

Jason Brown, 9th place 2011 U.S. Championships

Jason Brown, 9th place 2011 U.S. Championships

Since Golden Skate caught up with Jason Brown earlier this summer, he has solved his hair conundrum.

“I read the survey on Golden Skate every day for a while, and I decided that I would keep my hair long,”  he said with a laugh.

With the hair debate behind him—at least for this season—Brown has been focusing on adapting to a new skate boot.

“I stopped wearing the hinge boots recently, and it has been a huge adjustment,”  he explained. “My jumps feel a lot bigger, but I pull forward at the waist on the landings now. It’s something that I am still getting comfortable with, and I think that it will pay off in the end.”

Brown tried the triple Axel in the short program in Anaheim, receiving the dreaded <<, reducing scoring power of the element to a little more than one point.

“We plan to keep working on the Axel, and I definitely want to have it in my junior programs for the Grand Prix,”  Brown said. “I still haven’t practiced my junior freeskate, but we will be working on that as soon as I get back home.”

Like Hicks, Brown will have the rare opportunity to skate in Australia, as his Junior Grand Prix assignment will be to the event in Brisbane.

“Of course competing is the top priority, but we are staying for an extra two days to explore,”  he shared. “I want to see the animals.”

Brown and coach Kori Ade were training at Lake Arrowhead leading up to this event, and he had the opportunity to train on the same ice as fellow Chicagoland native Evan Lysacek.

“Seeing how hard Evan works was unbelievable,”  he said. “He is one of the hardest working skaters out there, and it was inspiring to see how he approaches his skating. Frank Carroll and all of his kids are such hard workers, and I think I learned a lot by watching them.”

Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker

Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, 4th place 2011 U.S Nationals pairs

Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, 4th place 2011 U.S Nationals pairs

What a difference a few short months can make—especially in terms of a very new partnership on the ice. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker have transformed themselves both on the ice and off.

“I’ve leaned out a bit,” Brubaker said. “I think that I am carrying about ten pounds less than I did with (former partner) Keauna (McLaughlin). I had a lot of strength back then that I didn’t really need.”

Marley has also made a physical transformation, appearing more mature as well as a bit more fit.

“Pairs requires so much back and arm strength, and I’ve been working on getting stronger,” she said. “I’m not wobbling like I used to in lifts, so the work is definitely paying off.

The physical changes, while remarkable, are nothing in comparison to the evolution of what has changed on ice. Gone is the athletic style that Marley and Brubaker depended on last season. This year, the team is longer, leaner, and very elegant.

“We’ve taken lots and lots of ballet,” Marley said.

There are noticeable improvements in speed and unison, and even though there was a mistake in their short program in Anaheim, the overall picture is much stronger than last season.

“We basically took time this year to start over and learn how to skate all over again,” Brubaker shared. “A lot of the top teams skate as if they aren’t really even trying. Everything looks so easy for them. That is what we have been working on all summer.”

Marley, who has decided to forgo competing in singles for at least this season, and is looking forward to the opportunities that she and Brubaker will have this season.

“I am so excited about the opportunity to compete at Skate America,” she said. “I just want it to hurry up and get here.”

Marley and Brubaker see this season as a foundation for what they hope to achieve next season.

“We are hoping to get a senior B competition in addition to Skate America,” Brubaker said. “We want to be in line to have more competitive opportunities next season, and taking advantage of every assignment we receive this year will allow that to happen.”

Marley has been spending her time this summer getting to know her surroundings.

“I’m new to California, so I’ve been exploring a little bit,” she said. “I’ve really been enjoying the tons of arts festivals that have been taking place in southern California. It’s a nice relaxing way to get away from skating.

Brubaker recently spent some time back in his native Chicago participating in Moosefest, the brainchild of former U.S. skaters Jimmie and David Santee. The event has a summer and winter version, and pits teams of figure skaters against each other in athletic competitions.

“This year we competed in four events—mud volleyball, an adventure hunt similar to The Amazing Race, basketball, and dodgeball,” Brubaker said. “I was on a team with Ryan Bradley, Evan Bates, and my brother (ice dancer) Collin.”

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