Ice Network

Day One of U.S. Challenge Skate in the books

Novice ladies, men, pairs compete their short programs
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Joy Weinberg and Michael Lueck won the novice pairs short program with a score of 33.49. -Jay Adeff

The 2013 U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate began Thursday with the novice ladies, men's and pairs short programs, and the race for gold is close in all three.

First to take the ice were the pairs. Six months into their partnership, Joy Weinberg and Michael Lueck set the tone for the event with a total score of 33.49 points. In a close competition, they maintained their first-place position by receiving positive grades of execution (GOE) on six of their seven elements, including a group 5 lift worth 5.00 points that closed out their Moulin Rouge program.

"I'm excited because I just started doing pairs six months ago and everything's a highlight. I just love it all," Weinberg said. "I always wanted to skate pairs since I was little, but my dad was scared because he didn't want to see me tossed up in the air. Then one day, he was like, 'Go for it.' I found Michael and Trudy [Oltmanns, the team's coach], and I love it so much."

Less than two points separate Weinberg and Lueck from Alexandria Yao and Connor Fleming, who totaled 31.78 points.

The Skating Club of Boston is in position to win two novice ladies medals, as Rebecca Peng, who finished seventh as a novice at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, has a comfortable lead going into Friday's free skate.

Her "El Flamenco" performance featured a triple loop and triple Lutz-double toe combination, as well as a Level 4 combination spin. She earned 42.74 points.

Peng and Jin Baseman, who is in third after the short, train under Peter Johansson and Mark Mitchell in Boston. However, Carrie Wall, a pairs coach who works with some of the singles skaters at the club, is in Salt Lake City on behalf of Johansson and Mitchell.

"It's an interesting experience to come to a competition without your primary coaches, but it is going well and is a good learning experience," Peng said.

Of course, the rest of the coaching team is well aware of the results.

Via text, Mitchell said of the ladies, "We are really proud. They worked hard over the summer, and it's nice to see it paying off. Keep it in up in the long!"

Paige Rydberg is in second place with 38.46 points.

The novice men saved the best for last, with the final skater in the group, Eric Sjoberg, jumping out to the lead with 44.78 points.

"I felt really good," he said. "I felt cautious, but I wanted to make sure I did everything. The highlight was probably landing the flip because I had trouble with it in the warm-up."

Fourth as an intermediate at the 2013 U.S. Championships, Sjoberg has spent the summer working on footwork, jumps and skating skills. The work appears to be paying off as he earned a Level 3 on his footwork and executed clean jumps.

"I definitely had to work on my endurance," he explained. "Moving levels has been difficult because the program is 90 seconds longer than in intermediate."

Mitchell Friess and Harrison Wong, who is competing at his second U.S. Challenge Skate, sit in second and third, respectively. Friess' score of 41.65 narrowly edged Wong's total of 41.60.