A boy in his daddy’s suit took the junior men’s title tonight at the 2013 Prudential U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, and along the way, earned the second highest score in competition history for a junior man.
Twelve-year-old Vincent Zhou from Palo Alto, Calif., won his third national title in as many years, completing the intermediate-novice-junior champion trifecta.
“That was incredible—it was the skate of my life,” Zhou said immediately after his skate. “It just felt incredible. I can barely describe it. This program is a very mature program, and it took a lot of work. I was able to put my best out there and do it all.”
Skating to music from the film Casa Blanca, choreographer Justin Dillon wanted to take advantage of the young skater’s natural charisma, but also wanted to push him further than Zhou had ever gone before.
“The whole reason I picked this music for him was because he is such a young kid out there, and I wanted him to be a little gentleman,” Dillon explained. “It’s almost like it’s a boy who is playing dress up in his dad’s suit. It’s so whimsical, but it totally fits him and his personality.”
Zhou was technically sound—landing six clean triple jumps, earned level four on two of his spins, and level three for his step sequence and closing combination spin.
“I love the last triple Lutz-triple toe, and it’s a big hurdle for me,” he said. “I was glad to get it done. I stuck with the plan, and I was able to get it done. It was pretty difficult.”
The gold medalist scored a personal best 205.26 points.
“This is my personal best by six points,” said the champion. “I got 199 at Regionals. I was like, ‘what’s my problem—I can’t get over 200’. So this is a huge accomplishment for me, and I’m very proud.”
Slipping into second place after winning yesterday’s short program was Zhou’s training mate Shotaro Omori who missed qualifying for this competition last year.
“After not qualifying for nationals last year, I kind of realized that a change was necessary,” the 17-year-old said. “I always thought that Tammy Gambill was a great coach, and I decided to switch to her which I think was a great decision.”
Omori fell on a triple Axel attempt early in his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini program, but maintained his composure to finish strong. The La Mirada, Calif., native hit five triple jumps, and earned a total of 189.25 points overall.
“I wasn’t thinking about winning the title or anything,” Omori said. “I just came here and set a goal for myself to push through anything, and I’m happy that I was able to do that.”
Zhou and Omori are both coached by Tammy Gambill, who has experience with coaching two skaters to the podium in one competition—she did it last night when two of her students won gold and silver in the novice ladies division.
“I’m super excited—maybe I’ll be tired next Monday, but right now I am very excited,” she said.
Gambill was, of course, proud of both of her men this evening, but for different reasons.
“With Shotaro, I was proud that he didn’t give up, and actually added content to the program to make up for the mistakes early on in the program,” she shared. “With Vincent, I am very happy that he stayed in character and put all of his energy into it. He can get a little excited and sometimes get a little sloppy, but he stayed with that character until the end.”
Finishing third was last year’s champion, 13-year-old Nathan Chen from Salt Lake City. After starting the season off strong in his debut on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, Chen has struggled with injury and this week, a stomach bug.
“Everybody did the best they could, and I want to congratulate all of the medalists,” Chen said.
Chen started out slow in his program to The Three Musketeers—completing five double jumps before even attempting a triple. The bronze medalist did land four triples, but never looked like the skater who won the title last year in San Jose.
“It’s a great experience. There are always wins and losses in any sports career, and I think that it’s great to push through it to know what it feels like on either side,” Chen said philosophically. “It’s a good thing for me to be in this position.”
Chen scored 181.31 points in the competition.
Jimmy Ma, a competitor from Olympic champion Sarah Hughes’ hometown, clinched the pewter medal with 176.09 points. Fifth in the novice division a year ago, the 17-year-old’s “Hearts of Courage” free skate was crisp and powerful, and featured five triple jumps.
“Coming into this competition, I wasn’t expecting as much as has happened,” he admitted. “I just wanted to come here and stay solid, but obviously the crowd motivated me. Skating in the last group with these guys, you have to step up, and I feel that all of this really helped me to skate as well as I did.”
Jordan Moeller, 17, finished in seventh place in the free skate with an uneven performance that featured three triple jumps, but held on for fifth place overall with 161.02 points.
Jay Yostanto, the only skater in the competition to land a triple Axel—and he landed two of them—finished in sixth place with 159.25 points after struggling on his other triple jumps.