Ice Network

Late-bloomer Chan topples ladies field in Saint Paul

Le battles nerves to claim silver; Wessenberg takes bronze; Peng fourth
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The junior ladies medalists (L-R): Silver medalist Le, gold medalist Chan, bronze medalist Wessenberg and pewter medalist Peng. -Jay Adeff

Emily Chan is a late bloomer, at least by figure skating standards.

The 18-year-old Texan competed as a novice for four years, winning the title last season with triple toe loops and triple salchows in her programs. This year, she's putting triple-triple combinations and triple flips into her programs for the first time.

And that kind of slow but steady progress suits her just fine.

"I feel like learning (jumps) at an older age has given me more consistency with the technique, instead of learning them at a really young age and then going through body changes," Chan said. "Now, I'm finally ready to improve as a whole: jumps, skating skills and spins. Becoming a whole-package skater is my goal."

During the junior ladies free skate at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Wednesday night, Chan looked like she was well on her way.

Performing with delicacy and speed to Edvin Martin's "Chopin," she fell out of the first jump in her opening triple toe-triple toe combination but sailed through her triple flip, triple loop and two triple salchows. The free skate earned 114.09 points, and Chan won the junior crown with 180.83 points, outpacing the field by nearly 15 points.

"I took everything one thing at a time and tried to stay in the moment," she said.

Chan's career took off when she moved from Houston three years ago to train in Plano, Texas, under Aleksey Letov and Olga Ganicheva. The coaches oversee a large group of up-and-coming ladies at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter, including Vivian Le, the 14-year-old who placed second to Chan at this event.

"They totally changed the way I train, and they really changed my life," she said. "I see little girls training just as hard as older girls, and it's really motivating. We all do it together, and it's easier to get through the hard training sessions."

Le, the pre-event favorite, lost her chance at the title after falling on her opening move, an intended triple lutz-triple toe combination. The explosive jumper landed four other triples, including a double axel-triple toe combination and second triple lutz but fell on a triple salchow. She settled for the silver medal with 166.36 points.

"Today was really off," Le said. "I rushed my lutz, just like I did yesterday (in the short program). It didn't go well.

"I'm a little surprised and shocked; it's usually a jump I never miss," Le continued. "It's very unfortunate. I guess I was a little uptight. The rest of the program, I really fought for everything."

Letov was astounded his star pupil missed her best element twice in one event.

"It was nerves -- that's what she needs to work on," he said. "She has that jump very consistent. I would say, 99.9 percent (of the time) she never misses it, but she missed it here in the short and long."

The bronze medal went to Megan Wessenberg, who skated an entertaining, near-clean free to music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. The Boston skater hit a solid triple loop and triple flip, as well as a double axel-triple toe combination, to earn 103.40 points. She ended with 154.21 points.

"I worked so hard to get here, and I was happy I was able to perform the way I did today," Wessenberg said. "I think the loop and the flip in the beginning were really good for me, because I haven't done those yet this year."

Wessenberg's coaches, Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, are thrilled with their pupil's progress since she placed third at Eastern Sectionals in November.

"We've always thought Megan was fabulous. The problem was getting Megan to believe she was fabulous," Mitchell said. "She had a lot of firsts this week: first triple-triple in the short, and the triple loop and double axel-triple toe were new in the long."

Rebecca Peng claimed fourth place with an expressive program to music from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, hitting two triple flips and a triple lutz. Peng, who moved to Colorado Springs in September to train in Tom Zakrajsek's group, ended with 146.14 points.