Golden Skate

Canada’s Zhao prepares for senior debut

Selena Zhao

Selena Zhao performs her Short Program at the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

While Canadian Junior champion Selena Zhao is looking forward to debuting her senior year on the national level this upcoming season, she is also keeping her fingers crossed for some international opportunities.

The 17-year-old started the 2014-15 season well, placing ninth and tenth at her two first Junior Grand Prix (JGP) events. She then captured the junior national title with more than 13 points to spare.

“Winning nationals was such an exciting moment for me!” said Zhao. “It was an important goal of mine the whole season, so to be able to perform the programs I did under the pressure of the moment was very fulfilling for me.”

Going into the 2015 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, Zhao was having great practices and clean run-throughs on her programs up until a week before her debut at the event. Then she came down with the flu.

“I was still able to maintain training effectively, albeit on a lesser intensity,” she recalled. “However, right before I left, my illness flared up and I ended up traveling with a bad fever. I remember struggling to walk to the gates at the airport as we traveled to Estonia. I was so exhausted!”

At the beginning of the season, Zhao planned and landed a triple flip-triple toe three times. Then at her second JGP, she did a triple toe-triple toe in order to get the experience for the element.

“At nationals, I switched to a planned triple flip-double toe,” she further explained, “but we decided to go for the triple toe-triple toe at Junior Worlds.”

In Tallinn, Zhao’s short program hinged on that opening jump. It was feeling very solid for the skater leading up to the event, and she hit it often in practice. However, due to missing training because of the flu, as well as the confidence that comes along with it, the jump didn’t come through when it counted.

“I was focusing on the take-off of the first toe so it could set me up well for the second toe,” Zhao explained. “Somehow I weirdly botched the landing; flipping out of it and completely losing my combo. It was a mistake that defined the competition!”

While the teen showed good spins and footwork, she also under-rotated her triple Lutz. As a result, she only placed 26th and did not qualify for the free skate.

“Junior worlds was a hard, but good lesson for me,” said Zhao. “I learned how to push through adversity and still skate with confidence and poise on the practices regardless of how I really felt. Although my short program did not go as planned, I believe that this experience will help me in the future.”

Moving forward, Zhao, who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, Colo., under Christy Krall and Damon Allen, is working on increasing her physical fitness and staying healthy. On the ice, she is focusing on improving her components and skating skills, as well as the consistency of her jumps.

The teen is excited about her two new programs this year, both of which were choreographed by Tom Dickson. Her short program is to “Moon River” by John Bayless, while the long is to music from Puccini’s Turandot performed by Vanessa Mae.

“These two programs have conflicting characters, so it’s interesting and challenging for me to be able to effectively portray both,” said Zhao, who has been working hard to improve her connection to the music in her programs. “They are also more well-known pieces of music, so I hope to push myself artistically to be able to do them justice.”

Zhao realizes that she needs to up her game in order to become more competitive with the senior ladies. One area that she is working hard on is the consistency of her triple-triple combinations as well as the triple loop so that she can count on them in competition.

“Another incredibly important aspect of moving up to senior is that I need to skate with more maturity,” she acknowledged. “I am working with my choreographer to bring out the nuances and character of the music, and to skate with more carriage, speed and flow. I am also working to improve my presentation and connection to the music.”

The skater, who was born in Kirkland, Wash., became a dual citizen about a year and half ago.

“For most of my life, I was the only American citizen in my family—everyone else was Canadian!” said Zhao, who has one brother. “Therefore, representing Canada was a natural decision for me to make.”

“My mom is here with me in Colorado Springs, Colo., and my dad works in Seattle, Wash.,” she shared. “My parents first lived in Victoria, B.C., and then moved to Ottawa, Ont., where my brother was born.”

Training and studying pretty much sums of Zhao’s life during the school year, but when the skater has time, she likes to read, hang out with her friends, volunteer, and play with her dog.

“She is a beautiful golden retriever-German shepherd mix called ‘Clover,'” Zhao said of her pet. “She is definitely a bright spot in my life!”

Zhao, who can speak, read, and write in both English and Chinese, will be a senior this fall at Cheyenne Mountain High School where she is a top student. In her junior year, she won the math gold plaque for having the highest grade in the senior math class for BC Calculus.

“It’s honestly so hard for me to pick a favorite subject,” she said when asked. “I love the challenge of excelling in all different fields—both English and math, social studies and science. If I were to pick from last year’s classes, I would say I enjoyed BC Calculus. I also had an amazing, inspiring teacher, Mrs. Mueller, so I must say I’m quite fond of AP Chemistry as well.”

Zhao is currently slated to compete later this month at Skate Detroit and the Quebec Summer Championships in August.

“I would like to have a good senior debut that showcases more sophistication on the ice and compete with more consistency and reliability,” she said, regarding her goals for the upcoming season.