Ice Network

Chan jumps in front in novice ladies competition

Ouellette close behind in second place; Third-place Nakahara in contention
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Skating to circus-themed music, Emily Chan set the pace in the novice ladies short program with 50.97 points. -Jay Adeff

For Emily Chan, the third time just might be the charm.

The 17-year-old Texan, who placed ninth in novice last season and sixth in 2013, won Sunday night's short program at the 2015 U.S. Championships with a clean, relaxed performance that earned 50.97 points, enough for a 3.74-point lead heading into Monday's free skate.

"I try to just skate because I love it, and not try to win or focus on skating perfect," Chan said. "I try to do what I do in practice and not overthink it, and that really helped."

Chan didn't hit the event's toughest jumps, but her triple toe loop-double toe loop combination and triple Salchow were high and smoothly landed, and her double Axel was one of the biggest of the night. She brought musicality and maturity to her quirky choreography, set to "Carousels" from Cirque du Soleil.

"It's a circus piece, and my character is a mime or a doll," Chan said. "When I become a character, it makes me feel less nervous and happy when I skate."

Olga Ganicheva, who coaches Chan with her husband, Aleksey Letov, at Plano's Dr. Pepper StarCenter, choreographed the routine.

"Emily did amazing, I think," Ganicheva said. "She felt the music and her character. She was relaxed and beautiful. This is the way she trains."

The teenager is doing double duty in Greensboro. She will also compete in novice pairs with partner Misha Mitrofanov.

"She works hard; she is self-motivated, self-disciplined," Ganicheva said. "Her success is the result of hard work every day."

Nina Ouellette, a 12-year-old from Northern California, landed a triple Lutz-double toe combination and triple Salchow in a dynamic program set to Hiromitsu's percussive "Curfew," choreographed by her coach, Justin Dillon, and three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir.

Ouellette showed special finesse in a fast and fluid step sequence, hitting every beat in her music and punctuating her moves with a strong double Axel before closing with a superb Level 4 combination spin. She takes 47.23 points into the free skate.

Another 12-year-old, Akari Nakahara, sits third after a charming program to Puccini's aria "O Mio Babbino Caro," highlighted by a lilting step sequence and spectacular spins, including a layback to fully stretched Biellmann.

The diminutive skater had some of the evening's most difficult transitions into jumps, including a spread eagle into a triple Salchow, but was unable to complete a combination. Still, she sits third with 43.98 points.

"We changed my music after sectionals, it was without vocals (before)," Nakahara said. "I think I could have skated better, but I'm happy with the result."

"We thought adding vocals would give it a little more kick and help her express herself a little bit more," said Angela Nikodinov, who coaches Nakahara in the Los Angeles area with her husband, Ivan Dinev. "It was a great skate for her. She is a very consistent skater and a hard worker. It's nice to see it all come together at the end of the season when it really counts."

Anna Grace Davidson of Salt Lake City is fourth with 40.82 points heading into the free skate, closely followed by Boston's Jin Baseman with 40.71 points.