Ice Network

Aaron hopes Broadway is ticket to PyeongChang

Murakami eyes Olympic spot; Stellato-Dudek, Bartholomay test the limits
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Max Aaron hopes to ride his Broadway-themed programs all the way to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in February. -Getty Images

When Max Aaron reflects on the 12th-place short program at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships that thwarted his chances for a fourth U.S. world team appearance, he doesn't wince.

He just smiles and shrugs his shoulders.

"If it came easy, it wouldn't be fun," he said at the Philadelphia International Summer Competition held last week in Aston, Pennsylvania. "Right now, it's an uphill battle coming back from that terrible event, but it just makes me stronger. I feel great where I'm at and I can't wait to see how far I can go this season."

Aaron is taking this latest journey with Katherine Hill, a skating and dance choreographer who works at his training site in Colorado Springs. He's still close to California-based Philip Mills -- his choreographer the past several seasons -- but wants to work with someone nearby.

"I'm still close with Philip," Aaron said. "I'm going to work on skating skills with him when I get the time to go out there. I'm lucky to have a guy like him who is willing to work with me, even though he didn't choreograph the program; and Katherine, who is willing to have him work on the program."

After considering every genre -- including AC/DC and Ozzie Osbourne -- Hill and Aaron turned to Broadway's Les Miserables for the short program and a Phantom of the Opera medley for the free skate.

"Max wants to make sure everyone in the building has an amazing time, and it was important to find something they could enjoy along with him," Hill said. "Both pieces are very strong, which complements his style and speed and also allows us to play with musical nuance. He has true musicality, when given the opportunity."

Aaron was drawn to "Bring Him Home," Les Miserables protagonist Valjean's prayerful Act II solo.

"To me, it's similar to "Nessun Dorma," and that was my favorite short program of all time," he said. "We needed a strong ending, and we ended up picking "One More Day." Then, we had the challenge of editing the two together, which was a pain in the butt."

The skater wanted to do a Phantom free skate for years. Hill encouraged him to also consider other options, but in the end, endorsed the choice.

"I could tell he felt it, he knew the music inside and out, and he was hearing the nuances I hoped he would hear," she said.

Aaron, who placed third behind Timothy Dolensky and Ukrainian Yaroslav Paniot in Aston, thinks he got what he needed: the feel of doing quad toe and quad salchow in the same program, something he had not tried since the 2013-14 season. Both jumps are in the short program. His free skate allows for four quads, although he did three -- two toes and a salchow -- in Aston.

"He's been in a really good training mode," Tom Zakrajsek, Aaron's longtime coach, said. "We came here to meet his readiness, put out his new material for the first time and get some feedback."

Hill will be on hand to help make sure the programs continue to develop.

"We get together at least twice a week off the ice, and even more often on the ice," she said. "I'll say, 'You have so many seasons of experience under your belt. You can play with nuances and movement quality. Where does the head go? Where do the eyes look?' It's a daily commitment."

Murakami readies for Japanese showdown

In 2014, Daisuke Murakami won the NHK Trophy over Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu. The following season, he qualified for the Grand Prix Final. He couldn't build on those results, though, because a fractured right foot wiped out most of his 2016-17 season.

"It was unfortunate, but it was a really good lesson for me, because I learned how to train better and I learned how to listen to my coach, Frank Carroll, better," Murakami said from Aston last week, where he won the IceWorks Skating Club competition.

"This has been one of the earliest summer competitions I've done," he added. "I'm glad I took that step forward to my Olympic dream."

Murakami and Carroll traveled to Aston from Southern California in order to display his short to Josh Groban's "Bring Him Home" and free to Andrea Bocelli's Pagliacci, both choreographed by Lori Nichol.

"I kept last season's programs," Murakami said. "The short I competed with two years ago at the Grand Prix Series and Grand Prix Final. We definitely re-vamped the choreography. I did get a new short done, but Frank and Lori felt I wasn't skating it the way they saw me skate to this one."

Murakami calls his free skate "a work in progress." In Aston, he hit gorgeous quad salchows in both programs, and is reaching for more

"There are a lot of improvements that can be done, hopefully by next month when I compete at the (Skate Canada) Autumn Classic," he said. "We've been working on four quads: salchow, toe loop, flip and lutz. They are about equal in practice, minus the salchow. Out of the three, the quad lutz is the most consistent, so I'm hoping to put either quad lutz or quad flip in the program for Canada."

Hanyu and world silver medalist Shoma Uno are shoo-ins for the Japanese Olympic team. But the third spot is up for grabs, and Murakami wants it. The Japanese Skating Federation granted him the home country slot at NHK this fall, a good sign.

"I definitely feel I am a contender for the Japanese team as the third spot, along with Takahito Mura and Keiji Tanaka," he said. "I am listening to everything Frank Carroll says, because he is the most experienced coach in the skating world. I feel like I've paced myself well for a strong season."

Stellato-Dudek, Bartholomay all in on throw quad

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nate Bartholomay, fourth in the U.S. last season, competed in Aston, defeating promising new Israeli pair Paige Conners and Evgeni Krasnopolski. The Florida-based team, who also competed at the Orange Blossom Open and Skate Detroit, came to Aston to get more mileage on their programs: a short program choreographed by Rohene Ward to violinist Joshua Bell and vocalist Frankie Moreno's rendition of "Eleanor Rigby" and free skate created by Mark Pillay to a U2 medley featuring "One."

"I think it's refined, elegant and shows maturity," the pair's coach, Jim Peterson, said of his skaters' free. "It's also well-organized for the technical difficulty they're trying to accomplish. There are breathing moments between the elements where they can re-gauge and move on, and not feel overwhelmed."

The team's free skate includes a throw quadruple salchow, a move no U.S. pairs team has landed cleanly in competition since 2007. Although Stellato-Dudek fell on the move in Aston, she rotated and landed it at the aforementioned Orange Blossom Open earlier this summer.

"She lands it every day [in practice]," Peterson said. "I always say, you have to learn the element, you have to learn the element in the program and then you have to learn the element under pressure in the program. I think we're in between that second and third stage right now. It's in for the year."

Stellato-Dudek, the 2001 world junior silver medalist who began competing pairs last season, is determined to regularly land the throw in competition.

"The quad is pretty consistent, when both of us wait for the takeoff to occur and don't rush it," she said. "It's actually a more comfortable jump for me than the triple because it has less deceleration and feels like my own jump. We're planning on doing it all year and it's definitely going in the right direction."