Ice Network

Naumov overcomes growing pains, prevails in short

Reigning bronze medalist in position for gold; Kang edges Tran for second
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The third-place finisher in this event last season, Maxim Naumov looks primed for the gold this time around. The Connecticut native sits atop the leaderboard after posting a score of 55.82 for his "Maybe I Maybe You" short. -Jay Adeff

Maxim Naumov held off Joseph Kang and Dinh Tran for the top spot in the novice men's short program at the 2017 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Monday afternoon at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri.

Naumov came back from a number of setbacks after being crowned U.S. novice bronze medalist in 2016. Instead of hitting the ground running toward his next qualifying season, Naumov spent the first half of 2016 adjusting to a substantial difference in stature.

"The first six months after nationals, I wasn't doing too well," Naumov said. "I was growing a lot and had some problems and pains as a result, so the whole first half of the year was really slow. I had to adjust.

"Once all that was behind me, I really picked up the pace and trained hard to win here," he continued. "I've trained so hard, and I'm committed to this. I'm really ready to do my best here, and I'm happy with my first skate."

With a look of graceful determination, Naumov gave a clean performance that received only one negative Grade of Execution. He landed a triple lutz-double toe, triple flip and double axel during his short to "Maybe I Maybe You" by Scorpions, and he was the only skater in the top four to earn a Level 4 on his spins and step sequence. He sits solidly in first place with 55.82 points.

"I'm relieved," Naumov said. "I've had a rough time. In the hard times, you're never quite sure what's going to happen. You have to pick yourself back up, and that's what I did. Now I have to keep my mental focus and stay in this place through the free skate."

Kang also experienced a growth spurt in the offseason, not only in terms of height but also in his level of skating. As the 2016 U.S. intermediate champion, he felt pressure to stay at the top of his game.

"It's been difficult because I have these expectations now," Kang said. "I want to keep building on my success, but it's also a cool experience to go after a new level, see how far you can push yourself and how much you can improve. For me, other than my long program being a minute longer, it's not that much different. I think if you tell yourself it's not that big of a deal, you can make that transition more smoothly."

A shaky triple loop in his Henry V short threatened to place Kang lower than second, but the Delaware skater's program components helped him edge Tran by just 0.06 points. He heads into Tuesday's free skate with 52.04 points.

Just one year after failing to qualify for the U.S. championships in his first novice season, Tran, the 2015 U.S. intermediate silver medalist, is thrilled to round out the top three.

"This year I really pushed myself to work on my components and my spins, in particular, and I really think I've improved a lot," Tran said. "To be where I am after the short program definitely helps give me confidence again. I've been taking my training seriously and not fooling around as much. Now I'm going to keep it up and just take things one element at a time."

Tran amassed a technical element score of 29.89 for his "Tango Amore" short, the second highest of the event.

Jordan Evans sits fourth with 48.35 points.