Ice Network

Huang beats out tough novice ladies field for gold

Cui wins free, silver medal with 'Oz' program; Kalyan pulls up for bronze
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Angelina Huang gave a joyful and powerful performance of her 'Kung Fu Panda 3' free skate, which was good enough to move her up from second after the short to the top step on the podium. With her 94.53-point outing Tuesday, Huang, the 2016 U.S. intermediate pewter medalist, clinched the gold with a total mark of 143.19. -Jay Adeff

Angelina Huang and Ting Cui outpaced the rest of a tough novice ladies field at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Tuesday, lifting them to the gold and silver medals, respectively.

The big-jumping Huang, who trains at the Colorado Springs World Arena, hit six triples in her free skate to music from Kung Fu Panda 3, choreographed by Massimo Scali and Catarina Lindgren. The tally included triple lutz and triple salchow done in sequence, plus another triple lutz and two triple flips. She earned 94.53 points en route to placing second in the free skate and winning the title with 143.19 points.

"I've really been working on getting my jumps solid," Huang, 14, said. "The bonus-point rule really encourages us to try new things."

U.S. Figure Skating awards bonus points for novice skaters' triple-triple combinations as well as for each different triple jump, including under-rotated or imperfectly landed attempts.

"For the triple lutz-triple salchow combination, I thought, 'I have nothing to lose, let's try it at nationals,'" Huang said. "I stayed on my feet and rotated the jumps, so I'm pretty happy with that."

Huang hails from St. Louis, Missouri, where she was trained by Kelsey Himmel (née Drewel), winner of the novice title in 2001. Himmel joined Huang's primary coach, Damon Allen, at the boards in Kansas City.

"Putting two great programs together is tough, and no better time to do it than nationals," Allen said. "We had amped up the program since sectionals, back-loaded it (with triple jumps) and added a triple loop. For her to perform it so well on this stage shows what a great competitor she is."

Huang credited much of her success to the highly competitive training environment at World Arena.

"I love skating with all the great people; it's motivating to try to get as good as they are," Huang said. "Watching Mirai [Nagasu] landing her triple axel is incredible. It would be great to do that someday."

Ting Cui played the role of Dorothy in her free skate to music from The Wizard of Oz, and her expressive performance helped her gain the highest program components score (38.91 points) of the event. She won the free skate with 95.05 points and the silver medal with 142.68 points.

Cui fell on a triple lutz but hit two tough combinations -- a double axel-triple toe and a double axel-triple salchow -- and included three triple jumps in the second half of her program. Had she not faltered on her layback spin, which gained only a base level, she might have won the title.

"I just really love the character. I love using a lot of expressions and getting into the theatrical side of skating," Cui, 14, said. "Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie."

"It was a personal best, which is all you can hope for," said Chris Conte, who coaches Cui in Baltimore, Maryland. "The sign of a strong competitor to me is when the chips are down, how do they recover? One mistake can turn into two, or three. The triple lutz has been very good for her, but when she fell on it, she just got stronger on other elements."

Pooja Kalyan, who lives in Arkansas but trains under Alex Ouriashev and Scott Brown in the Chicago area, climbed from fifth after the short to claim the bronze medal with 131.77 points.

Kalyan included five triples in her Samson and Delilah program, choreographed by Lori Nichol. Although several of them had flawed landings, she still earned four bonus points. She closed with back-to-back superb Level 4 spins.

Like other coaches, Brown cited the exceptional quality of this season's novice ladies field.

"This is one of the strongest novice ladies groups we've ever seen, and I've always had many novices through the years," he said. "Think back a few years ago: You could do triple salchow and triple toe and repeat them, and stay competitive. There were six girls in this group trying triple-triples."

Alysa Liu, the 11-year-old Californian who held a narrow led after the short program, opened her free skate to Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" with two difficult triple-triple combinations but faltered on several of her jumps and did not gain the program component marks awarded the top ladies. She placed fourth with 131.68 points.