Ice Network

Chan touches audience during first-place short

Le endures jump issues; Berrios delivers strong routine; Yang fourth
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After winning the U.S. novice ladies title last year, Emily Chan is on her way to laying claim to the junior crown after jumping out to an almost 10-point lead. Skating to "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston, Chan was one of only two skaters to cleanly land a triple-triple jump on the way to 66.74 points. -Jay Adeff

Watching Emily Chan's lyrical performance to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on Tuesday, you would never guess the song was far from her first choice for a short program.

"I came to her and said, 'I want you to skate to Whitney Houston,' and she said, 'Nah,'" remembered Olga Ganicheva, Chan's choreographer. "But I said, 'No, it will be good.'"

To her credit, Chan changed her mind almost immediately.

"As soon as I heard it, I knew I had to skate to it," Chan said. "I just felt the emotions with Whitney Houston, and The Bodyguard is an amazing movie. I feel I can perform this program the way it should be performed -- to touch people."

Chan's performance certainly touched fans at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, as she was given a standing ovation when she finished. The Texas skater, who won the novice crown last season, skated with supreme ease, flowing effortlessly through a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and triple flip as well as a pristine Level 4 step sequence. Her 66.74 points gave her a near 10-point lead over training partner Vivian Le.

"I felt like I needed to focus on the story of the program and not so much the jumps, and that helped keep me calm," Chan said.

"She is a very mature skater, so of course she can express that kind of dramatic music," Ganicheva said. "She is 18, and that's why I picked this music. She can really feel it."

Le, the pre-event favorite, lost ground when she two-footed her opening triple lutz and failed to complete a planned triple toe loop. Although she hit a fine triple flip and gained Level 4's for her other elements, she has a lot of ground to make up during Wednesday's free skate.

"I think I just rushed into the first jump," the 14-year-old said. "I'm very happy with the rest of my performance. I just forgot about what happened and moved on.

"I have a lot of triples in my free skate tomorrow, so we'll see what happens," she added.

Aleksey Letov, who coaches Chan and Le with wife Ganicheva at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Plano, Texas, was surprised by the missed combination.

"She is pretty consistent with that jump, but today it didn't happen," he said. "She got a little tilted, and when she put a leg down on the landing, she thought, 'That's it, I can't do [the triple toe].'"

Chan and Le are members of a large group of skaters studying under the husband-and-wife team, including 10 athletes competing in Saint Paul.

"We train every day together," Le said. "It's inspiring skating with her, just pushing each other and watching each other so we both keep on going."

"They are so different, we cannot even compare them," Ganicheva said. "Different style, different kids -- different everything. Emily was more relaxed today. Vivian is a very responsible child; she wants to always do her best, and she was a little rushed in the take-off (of the triple lutz)."

Carly Berrios sits third after a charming program choreographed by Tom Dickson to "Moulin Rouge Suite: III, Waltz" from the 1952 Moulin Rouge film. The graceful, feminine skater showed strong jumps, including a triple flip and triple toe-double toe combination, and earned 53.02 points.

"This was my best short program of the season," Berrios, 17, said. "I moved to Colorado Springs at the end of February to train with Damon Allen and Christy Krall, and it's been going really great. I feel like my components have improved, and I even feel like my joy of skating has improved so much."

"She's really a joy to teach," Allen said. "We always say she's got kind of a little Disney princess face. I thought today she decided to take her time, be patient and pay attention to her patterns. She looked confident from the moment she stepped out there."

Southern Californian Alice Yang, who trains under Lynn Smith, had a calm, expressive performance to music by the group Secret Garden that included a solid triple flip and stunning layback spin. She is fourth with 51.48 points.