Ice Network

SLC snippets: Chen's feet, programs get a reboot

Wang raises her hands; Donlan, Bartholomay make switch to Ol' Blue Eyes
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After going through 14 pairs of boots, Karen Chen thinks she finally found a pair that fits. -Getty Images

Karen Chen, the 16-year-old surprise bronze medalist at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, sums up her biggest challenge on the ice.

"Sometimes, I think about things too much," she said after the ladies short program draw on Thursday. "Not just choreography-wise -- my mind races too much. I just really have to think about one thing at a time, not the whole program at once."

Chen has had a lot to think about. By her count, she has gone through 14 pairs of skating boots in the last four months. She and her coach, Tammy Gambill, and choreographer Justin Dillon, re-vamped both her short program and free skate about two weeks ago, changing sections of music, tweaking choreography and coming up with new jump and spin layouts.

"They are almost like new programs; a lot of stuff changed," she said. "I think it's all for the better."

To top it off, Chen is making her senior international debut at the 2015 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic this week after two seasons on the Junior Grand Prix circuit.

"I think it will be very interesting, and I hope to enjoy this experience," Chen said. "Once your first time is over, there's never a first time to do it again, if you know what I mean."

Even with all the changes, Chen says she doesn't feel rushed. She looks at Salt Lake City as a way to build up to her Grand Prix debut at Cup of China this fall.

"You have to get there at some point, so this is a great opportunity," she said. "I'm glad I'm able to do this, and I just want to give it my best at this moment."

There are signs things are looking up for the teen, who trains in Riverside, California. During Champs Camp, a new pair of Edea skating boots arrived, and this pair seems to be working. In early practices in Salt Lake City, she was inconsistent with her triple loop as well as the triple lutz-triple toe combination she plans in both her short and free. In a later practice, the jumps looked much improved.

"In practice at home, the triple-triple has been going pretty well, but when I was here, I was getting kind of nervous and tense," Chen said. "I wasn't able to let loose and go and practice. I think if I'm able to calm myself down and really think about things, I should be good to go."

Wang rips off new loops

Colorado Springs skater Angela Wang and her coaches, Christy Krall and Damon Allen, turned a negative -- Wang's herniated lumbar disc -- into an opportunity to create a new move.

The 19-year-old skater entered the U.S. championships last season with high expectations, having performed well in her ISU Challenger Series events. The back injury limited her performances, though, and she placed 15th. Afterward, she spent three weeks off the ice to rest and attend physical therapy.

"When I got back on the ice, Christy had me do double loops with different arm variations, including both over my head, to kind of control my shoulders and my upper body," Wang said. "One day she was like, 'OK, let's try a triple!' I thought, 'What?' But I just went for it."

Several skaters, notably Adam Rippon, do triple lutzes with both arms overhead. Others have tried the variation with triple flips. Wang is one of the first to accomplish it with a triple loop. To her, it feels natural.

"I was throwing my upper body in the loop, and doing it this way really helps me with control," she said. "I've just been working really hard, overcoming the back injury, doing my therapy and keeping strong. I'm listening to my body more and more. As you get older, you definitely have to be more aware of how much you can push yourself."

Donlan, Bartholomay do it their way

Gretchen Donlan and Nathan Bartholomay, fourth after the pairs short program, will skate their free to a light-hearted medley featuring three of Frank Sinatra's most iconic hits: "That's Life," "The Way You Look Tonight" and "My Way." That wasn't the way the skaters and their coach, Jim Peterson, planned it, though.

"We skated to Rachmaninoff in the beginning of the season, and we believed in the program," Bartholomay said. "But [judges and officials] like our Chicago short program a lot; they thought it took us to a different level, portraying characters. The feedback was, 'The Rachmaninoff is pretty, it's good, but compared to the short, it isn't new ground for you.'"

Critiques, no matter how constructive, aren't always easy to take, but after consideration, Peterson choreographed the new free shortly before Champs Camp late last month.

"It's really a love story," Bartholomay said. "In the first part, I'm a guy down on his luck: Nothing is good, but we have each other. The second part is romantic, swinging, catered to Gretchen. Then we reach 'My Way' at the end; we're unified."

Donlan, for whom jumps are a relative weakness, thinks she is improving, but she was disappointed to miss the triple toe in the team's short Thursday.

"We've changed the entrance on the triple toe, and worked with the patterns (of the jumps)," Donlan said. "My take-offs, and checkouts and landings, are more consistent."

"We hit maybe three out of five sets (of triple toes) together in practice," Bartholomay said. "We're improving. We feel we will peak at the right time this season, at nationals."