Ice Network

Minnesota morsels: Arutunian sounds off on jumps

Start 'em young, says venerable coach; Dance teams get outside help
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Nathan Chen and his coach, Rafael Arutunian, believe that the best time to try difficult jumps is when a skater is still young. -Jay Adeff

Proud of pupil Nathan Chen's two-quad short program, the first ever at a U.S. championships, Rafael Arutunian was fired up in the mixed zone Friday night.

"It was a message to everybody: Guys, wake up," Arutunian said.

Chen landed a clean quad toe-triple toe combination and gained full base value credit for a quad salchow. He and Max Aaron were the only two skaters in the 19-man field to land quads.

Arutunian thinks it's too late for most of the other competitors to catch up.

"Everything must be done starting from a child," he said. "If you want to raise a warrior, raise from when he is 3 years old."

The coach's wake-up call isn't directed at skaters. He wasn't happy when Chen was excluded from U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp in Colorado Springs last August; only senior-level competitors with Grand Prix assignments are invited to attend. After placing eighth at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Chen competed in the 2015 Junior Grand Prix Series.

"I said, 'Be flexible, change the regulation,'" Arutunian recalled. "Invite younger people to come sooner, to understand what they need to do. Young girls would see Ashley Wagner there and maybe they would realize, 'We're not that bad, we can beat this girl tomorrow.' And they will try harder. So what I would like to say is you must give a chance to younger ones."

Arutunian, who also coaches Wagner, 24, and Hannah Miller, 19, wishes parents would bring talented skaters to his tutelage earlier.

"Maybe American mentality is like this: I am going to some shop, and I have a thick wallet with a lot of credit cards and I can buy it today," he said. "Sport doesn't work that way. In one day, you cannot get things, no matter how thick your wallet is. You need time to get it, so go to proper coach, to proper place, to someone who can direct you right."

Many U.S. officials and coaches share Arutunian's mentality. Rule changes in effect since July encourage skaters at lower levels to try harder jumps in their programs. For novices, each triple-triple jump combination that includes fully rotated or under-rotated jumps gains a two-point bonus, and each different triple jump that is fully rotated or under-rotated earns a one-point bonus. Juvenile skaters who include double axels earn bonus points, and the penalty for falls is reduced.

Aleksey Letov, coach of junior and juvenile champions in Saint Paul, served on the coaches' committee that was instrumental in proposing the changes.

"It helps to progress, push them to do more triples," Letov said. "Russian girls, Japanese girls already have consistent triple-triples at the novice and junior levels, and ours are not ready yet. There is [a proposal] to allow juvenile to do triples next season, and that will be an even bigger help."

"I already have four triples: salchow, toe, loop and lutz 70 percent," said Hannah Harrel, 12, a Letov student who placed second in juvenile girls. "I don't want to work on doubles. I want triples."

Chen, at age 16, has included quads in his programs for two seasons.

"This was my first time trying two quads in my short program. It was a big risk, but this was the best time to do it," Chen said. "My body is capable. This is the perfect time to try it, when I'm still young."

Some argue that quads and triple-triples put too much pressure on young skaters' hips and knees. Chen has had a series of growth-plate injuries and continues to receive physical therapy for his hip.

"So go to Starbuck's and enjoy your coffee, then," Arutunian scoffed. "If you want to compete, there is always risk."

- Lynn Rutherford

Boston state of mind?

Ross Miner performed his short program to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind," but he is hoping to be in a Boston state of mind pretty soon.

Miner, who trains at the Skating Club of Boston, is vying for a spot on his third world team, and it just so happens that the upcoming world championships will be held in the Hub, March 28-April 3.

Skating to a New York ballad in Boston might be a recipe for bad chowder, but Miner likes his music selection.

"I love Billy Joel," he said.

Miner isn't thinking about his superb short program, for which he earned a score of 90.90, more than eight points better than his previous career high. That's because he and his longtime coaches, Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, have moved on to Sunday's free skate.

"In the kiss and cry, we wrapped it up," Mitchell said. "We put it in a box and put it away. We have to use that confidence and adrenaline for the free."

Miner trails leader Max Aaron by just 0.93 points entering the free skate. Miner did not do a quad in the short program, but he has one planned for the free.

"Absolutely," said Miner, who landed quads in practice Saturday. "It's there."

Should Miner be named to the world team on Sunday, it would make for quite the special day for the skater.

Miner said, "My birthday is on Sunday, so hopefully I can give myself a good birthday present."

- Amy Rosewater

Strictly Ballroom versus American Ballet Theatre

In the short dance Friday, the routines of the top two ice dance couples couldn't have been more different.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates glided through a sophisticated foxtrot, while Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani embraced characters from Coppélia, a ballet about a life-size doll that seemingly comes to life. For both programs, the teams sought out expert help.

Chock and Bates regularly met with ballroom champions Steve and Susan McFerran, who own a dance studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

"They are definitely a big piece of our puzzle," Bates said. "For the foxtrot, they were a huge part of developing the authenticity of the ballroom hold, our carriage and presence on the ice, kind of the playfulness of the dance."

Steve McFerran, who has taught Bates since the skater was a young teenager, didn't want judges to have any doubts about the timing and character of Chock and Bates' dances.

"The transition between the foxtrot and waltz should be definitely recognizable," he said. "The foxtrot is a bit jazzy and on the beat; the waltz is much more flowing. You should swing into the transition between the two dances, and the differences should be quite clear.

"It helps that Evan is a strong male dancer," McFerran added. "If you asked him to go out on to the floor and lead a lady through a foxtrot or waltz, he could."

Cheryl Yeager performed the Coppélia title role in her years as a principal with American Ballet Theatre. Now a teaching professional at Ballet Academy East, she traveled to the Shibutanis' rink in Canton, Michigan, before the start of the season and again a few weeks ago. In between, the siblings sent Yeager footage of each of their short dance performances this season, and she emailed them detailed feedback.

Yeager was impressed by what she called the Shibutanis' "relentless desire to improve." As shown in Maia's performance Friday, Yeager worked on the skater's "port de bras," or upper body choreography, to incorporate the doll's stiff, almost jerky movements. They also worked together to bring humor to the routine.

"The characters in the ballet are a charming blend of feistiness and prankster," Yeager said. "Maia and Alex were open and game to explore their characters' playful antics and the stiff staccato movements that embody the Coppélia doll."

The experts know their stuff: Both teams called their short dance performances in Saint Paul their best of the season.

- Lynn Rutherford