Ice Network

Revved-up Aaron won't back down at Skate America

U.S. champ still targets three-quad free; Zawadzki re-teams with Zakrajsek
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Max Aaron knows exactly what to work on to point himself in the right direction. -Getty Images

Go big or go home. Don't back down. Put up or shut up.

Max Aaron used all those aphorisms, and a few more, in his conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon. The U.S. champion made it clear that, despite a few bumps at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City last month, he will stick with his strategy of doing three quads, plus two triple Axels, in his free skate at 2013 Skate America next week.

In fact, he's making things even harder on himself.

"We've made the transitions [into jumps] more difficult in both programs while keeping the content up," the 21-year-old said.

"The program will challenge me the entire year. I want it to grow. Hopefully by nationals, and then hopefully Olympics and worlds, it will be clean. I'm going for it all."

The Colorado Springs-based skater easily defended his title in Salt Lake City, earning 157.72 points for his Carmen free skate. But, he popped his quad toe loop into a double, put a hand down on his first quad Salchow and spun out of a landing on his second. His score was below the early-season tally of Spain's Javier Fernández, who notched 176.91 points at the Japan Open, and the 180.93 points Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu earned in his winning free skate at Finlandia Trophy, among others.

"There were three holes in the program," Aaron said. "There was the double toe and [two] flawed quad Salchows. Having said that, I can stack up with these men. Of course, I have to compete the program the way it's laid out."

While many skaters insist they try not to follow their competitors' scores, Aaron admits he keeps close tabs. He knows that while he may match their quads and triple Axels, his program components scores -- for transitions, choreography and skating skills -- have yet to reach the top echelon.

"I've watched all of their programs," he said. "I love to study the other men, see who can put up the biggest scores."

"I have a certain [components] mark I want to reach, but I'm not sure I want to say it on a media call," he continued. "I don't know how I will score [on components]; that's why we added the quad toe, to give me a cushion of six or seven points. I look forward to seeing where I score, how I will stack up with the other men."

The ever-positive Aaron even claims he is glad he had a few missteps in Salt Lake City; now, they're out of the way.

"I was pleased with how I competed, that I put out the quad toe in the long program and [still did] the new choreography," he said. "Then, I was lucky I had another opportunity, at the [Olympic] media summit, and I fell on the quad toe. Great, that happens in skating; let's get it out of way."

Aaron's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, doesn't think clean programs are a pipe dream.

"Last Thursday and Friday, Max did two clean run-throughs of his long, and everyone in the [World Arena] went nuts," Zakrajsek said. "He hit every landing like it was a double jump, it was that good. Since Salt Lake City, he's stepped everything up a level."

Aaron spent last weekend working with Pasquale Camerlengo, who choreographed his Latin-themed short. They broke the program down beat by beat, adding a new beginning and changing the step sequence.

The skater admitted he was disappointed in the way he performed the program at Salt Lake City.

"I watched it over and over, a thousand times," Aaron said. "All of those views, they're probably just me. ... The musicality was not there."

"The long program too, we changed details and transitions in and out of the jump passes."

To Zakrajsek, Aaron's ability to be honest about his skating is an enormous asset.

"There's no sugar-coating that has to go on with him," Zakrajsek said. "You don't have to massage his ego, say things like, 'Oh Max, your components are really good.'"

"He has improved technically and he is improving artistically," Zakrajsek continued. "With Pasquale last week, he started to feel really comfortable expressing himself, adding his own flair and movement."

At Skate America -- his first-ever senior Grand Prix event -- Aaron will be among the first of the men to hit the ice for the short program. World silver medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan and 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi, among others, will skate in the second warm-up group.

To have a shot at winning, Aaron thinks it's essential for him to put up a big score.

"I have to set the tone like [I did] at 2013 nationals and lay down a program on a big stage," he said, recalling the clean short that set the stage for his victory at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"I'm looking forward to getting into the second warm-up group. That's a big goal. It will allow me to have a chance in the long."

One thing is for sure: He's not backing down.

"It's go big or go home," he said. "I could be that same guy that does senior B's and never has a shot at a Grand Prix, a worlds or Four Continents. I'm not afraid of failure, because I've failed before.

"There's no holding back, no fear. I'm excited to go. I want to be a top man in the sport."

Zawadzki to train with Zakrajsek

On Monday, two-time U.S. bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki announced she will now train with Zakrajsek at Colorado Springs' World Arena. It is her second go-around with the coach, who also trained her from 2008-11.

"There were never any bad feelings between Agnes and I, even after she left," Zakrajsek said. "In the three seasons I worked with Agnes, I never raised my voice to her. She's not that kind of kid; she's hard-working and totally cooperative.

"Certainly, I was disappointed when she said she wanted to train with Christy, but I understood. Christy had just made Patrick Chan the world champion, and she brought a lot to Agnes' skating."

According to Zakrajsek, the two will focus on strengthening the skater's confidence, as well as her consistency. He does not contemplate any major changes to her programs, both of which were choreographed by David Wilson.

"David gave her good programs; I like the transitions and movements," he said. "Agnes wants to do triple Lutz-triple toe, so the jump boxes may change. I know she can do it; she used to do it in practice, although she never competed it. It probably won't be there for Cup of China, because there's not enough time, but maybe [Rostelecom] Cup.

"Agnes jumps like a gazelle. She has a great athletic gift. I saw it from the first time I gave her a lesson. It's exciting to work with her again."