Ice Network

Second City slices: Ten lives as nomad on, off ice

Kazakhstani wants to 'skate from soul'; Quad inspires Canada's Nguyen
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Denis Ten feels a deep, personal connection to the music choreographer Lori Nichol picked for his free skate this season. -Getty Images

At his Thursday practice at 2014 Skate America, Denis Ten treated fans to a complete run-through of his new free skate, choreographed by Lori Nichol to haunting, yet life-affirming music by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

The Kazakhstani's musicality, edgework and fluid movements were on full display. He left out his jumps, although he practiced his triple Axel, quadruple toe loop and other elements later in the session.

"That was our strategy for today," Ten, 21, said. "I just started training (again) last week. The goal at Skate America is not to give the performance of my life; the goal is to start the season well.

"Lori gave me such great programs. I want to show them and represent that I have a higher level of skating than I had last season, that I'm getting better."

That's something Ten didn't think he did in 2013-14, when he struggled through visa issues, ankle injuries and boot problems before winning bronze at the Sochi Olympics. He had a rough start this fall, arriving at the Nebelhorn Trophy last month with a viral ailment that sapped his strength and forced him to withdraw.

Nichol and Ten's coach, Frank Carroll, are managing their skater's expectations. Their primary goals: keeping him healthy and relatively happy.

"We're trying to get him to feel more comfortable in his skates, because he always has boot issues," Nichol said. "He has to accept that the boot issues are there, and [to] go with boots that aren't his favorite pair ever. My philosophy is: Let's control what we can control, and let's make the best of where we are right now. Let's not think of it based on what we will do by worlds. We don't want him to get into some deep, depressing funk."

Ten kept a busy schedule during the offseason, performing in his home country as well as Japan and Korea. He considered taking a break from competition this season.

"In June and July, I talked with Frank and Lori about whether it would be good to take a year off," Ten said. "We decided it was smart to try this season to experiment. I want to show people, through my choreography, I am growing as a skater. My goal is to skate with my soul, with freedom in my body."

Ten traveled to Toronto in July to get two new programs from Nichol, including a short set to Lucio Dalla's "Caruso" with vocals from Joseph Calleja.

"I believe Denis is a unique combination of athlete and artist," Nichol said. "He has something we don't see in skating every day, or maybe ever. I want to help him bring that out, and I just feel honored we continue to work together and explore."               

Ten's free skate is close to his, and Nichol's, heart. The skater took to Facebook early this season to explain his relationship to Silk Road, a historically important international trade route between China and the Mediterranean Sea, which Ten said ran through his Kazakhstan hometown of Almaty.

"I was born and lived my whole life on a street called Zhibek Zholy, which literally translates into English as Silk Way," he wrote.

Nichol has wanted to choreograph a program to the Silk Road Ensemble selections for years.

"I had the music on hold for another skater, but I was fired by that skater and never got to use it," she said. "It turned out great that it wasn't used yet. The fact that Denis was born on the Silk Road is pretty outstanding. His life has mirrored the journey of being on the Silk Road as a nomad, with a lot of issues last year with his passport and visa to get into the U.S. There were all these huge hold-ups, and he had to [come up with a] makeshift, so I think the journey itself is very touching."

Ten admits he is less than happy with his boots and still not fully recovered from his virus, which he says caused him to lose a bit of muscle mass. But looking back at his bronze-medal performance in Sochi fills him with hope.

"I have an Eastern mentality -- I try to overcome obstacles myself," he said. "My coaches are always supportive though hard times. I can be 12th at a competition, like [at] Four Continents (in 2014), and the next event I will start over fresh. That's my special ability, I guess.

"I always want to improve by the end of the season," Ten continued. "I want to look at myself and say, 'I'm better than I was earlier in the season.' This year, the goal is the same. If I skate well, results will follow."

Nguyen makes Grand Prix debut armed with quad

With three-time world champion Patrick Chan taking a competitive hiatus this season, the Canadian men's title is up for grabs for the first time since 2007.

World junior champion Nam Nguyen, just 16, proved he is ready to stake his claim when he landed eight clean triples, including two triple Axels and his first-ever quad Salchow in competition, at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic in Barrie, Ontario, last week. Nguyen won the free skate and took home silver behind Ross Miner.

The teen landed two clean quad Salchows in his first practice at Hoffman Estates' Sears Centre and plans to try the jump in his free skate here.

"It felt great when I landed the quad for the first time in competition last week," said Nguyen, who grew up in British Columbia and trains in Toronto under Brian Orser and Ernest Pryhitka. "It gave me a lot of confidence for the season, and I hope it continues."

Despite his performance in Barrie, Nguyen doesn't consider himself the favorite heading into the 2015 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, which will play out in Kingston, Ontario, the third week of January.

"I don't think I'm the top Canadian man; I think Kevin (Reynolds) is at the top," he said. "My goal is always the same: Not only show a quad but do a very clean program, and get the levels on my spins and footwork."

Reynolds, who has ongoing boot issues, won silver medals behind Chan the last three seasons. Nguyen added that if his jumps are there in Kingston, his programs are up to the challenge.

"My short program (to Nina Simone's "Sinnerman") was done by Jeff Buttle and is definitely more mature than last season's short," he said. "My La Strada free (by David Wilson) is a lot of fun to skate, and also very dramatic, in a way."