Ice Network

Levels, high GOEs carry Zhu to novice ladies lead

Hsieh overcomes flaws to lead novice men; Peals win intermediate dance
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Beverly Zhu made her U.S. championships debut one to remember, winning the novice ladies short program by a wide margin. The representative of the All Year FSC earned 54.91 points for her "River Flows In You" routine, and she will take a lead of more than five points with her into the free skate. -Jay Adeff

Beverly Zhu and Nicholas Hsieh won the novice ladies and men's short programs, respectively, while Elliana Peal and Ethan Peal rallied to claim the intermediate dance title Tuesday at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California.

Novice Ladies Short Program

In her U.S. championships debut, 15 year-old Zhu stole away with the lead, earning 54.91 points with a delicate program to Yiruma and Henry Lau's River Flows in You.

"It feels really good," the Calabasas, California, resident said after the competition. "I did everything that I could today, and I am pretty surprised with the result.

Zhu opened with a strong triple flip-double toe loop combination and also landed her triple loop with ease. However, it was her three level 4 elements and positive Grades of Execution across the board that really separated Zhu from the pack.

"I knew that some of the other girls had harder jumps, but I knew that I could make that up because of my levels," she explained.

Zhu's performance was packed with intricate transitions and conveyed a softness that suits her long limbs.

"I try to make myself calm when I perform," she pointed out. "I think that when I am calm, the audience can relax and enjoy the performance."

Finishing in second place was Christina Lin from Murray, Utah. The 13 year-old struggled with her jump landings, turning out of the first half of a triple lutz-double toe loop combination and again on her solo triple loop.

"There are some definite improvements that can be made," she said. "Obviously, the jump landings were shaky, but I feel like my performance level was there even if it wasn't full out."

Despite the errors, Lin performed with passion and crispness in her "Pa' Bailar" program, and she will take 48.29 points into Wednesday's free skate.

Violeta Ushakova finished third with 46.76 points. The 13-year-old from Clifton Park, New York, opened with an unsteady triple loop but recovered to perform the rest of her tango program cleanly.

"It could have gone better," Ushakova said. "It was a good experience, but I missed my loop, so I am really disappointed."

Like Lin, Ushakova also earned high program component scores with her bold and brassy choreography.

"This was much better than last year," Ushakova said, referring to her sixth-place finish in intermediate. "I'm just trying to stay calm and focused for the free skate."

Novice Men's Short Program

Despite some small bobbles and a timing deduction, Hsieh, a 15-year-old from West Chester, Pennsylvania, set the novice men's pace with 56.75 points.

"I feel like I had to fight to perform well," Hsieh admitted after the competition. "But I am happy that I was able to skate decently."

Performing to Disturbed's haunting version of "The Sound of Silence," the leader opened an unsteady triple lutz that was intended to be his combination. Thinking quickly on his feet, Hsieh was able to save the program by tacking a double toe loop onto a planned triple toe loop.

"My lutz wasn't very good, but I am happy I fought for it," he explained. "I did not land a single one in the warm-up, but I was confident even if the landing was a bit off."

His coach, Viktor Pfeifer, credits Hsieh's commitment to training for his strong performance.

"He is very special with skating skills and artistry, but he is the kind of person who needs repetition in order to gain consistency," Pfeifer explained. "I am very proud of him. Even if his jumps weren't perfect in the air, he was still able to do his job."

In second place is Goku Endo, who is within striking distance of the leader after earning 54.11 points.

"It felt really fun," Endo said of his performance. "I don't have the hard jumps, but I think that I did OK for what I can do."

The 14-year-old opened with a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination, and opted for a solo triple salchow in his The Business of Love program. Despite earning positive Grades of Execution on all six of his elements, Endo was disappointed with his levels.

"My last spin and my footwork were level 3," he pointed out. "I think that I must have been short of rotation on one of my positions in the spin, and I must have missed a cluster or a body (feature) in the footwork."

In finishing third, Max Lake skated a ghostly performance to Gary Moore's "The Messiah Will Come Again" while feeling under the weather.

"I've had a cold for about a week, and it's just not going away," he lamented. "I'm surprised that it went so well."

The 15-year-old opened with a triple toe loop-triple toe loop, which helped him to the second-highest technical score of the day.

"I had a few trips into some of the elements, and my jump landings weren't so good," he said. "But I was able to overcome adversity to skate a pretty clean program, and I am happy with that."

A native of Carlsbad, California, Lake finished with 52.66 points.

Intermediate Free Dance

Tuesday was a big day for the Peal family.

Robert Peal, the 1991 U.S. junior ice dance champion, witnessed his children, Elliana and Ethan -- whom he also coaches -- capture a title of their own: the 2018 U.S. intermediate dance crown.

"This was by far more difficult than competing myself," the Peal family patriarch said. "I've been teaching them for years, and my heart is almost literally beating out of my chest when they compete. I can't do anything to help them when they are out there. They are all on their own."

Fortunately for their dad, Peal's offspring were up to the challenge today. Elliana and Ethan turned in a tongue-in-cheek performance to music by Harry Belafonte, making full use of the playful Calypso rhythm and lyrics.

"That was amazing," Ethan said. "I'm in shock. It's nice to have moments like this and to really enjoy them."

Peal and Peal earned Level 4's on all but one element, the diagonal step sequence, and finished the free dance with 52.40 points. Their total competition score of 96.01 was almost four and a half points more than that of the silver medalists, Claire Cain and Andrei Davydov.

"All of our hard work throughout the year paid off today," Elliana said through a large smile. "It's nice to know that it's all worthwhile."

Cain and Davydov slipped from atop the leaderboard to finish in second place after a disappointing free dance to music by Secret Garden.

"Our expression and skating skills were good, but we were a little off," Cain explained. "We usually don't do that bad in practice, even if we do make mistakes once in a while."

The duo made miscues on their combination spin and twizzles, leaving the door open for Peal and Peal to take the title.

"It was good for the most part, but we messed up a few elements," Davydov conceded. "We touched down on the transition of the spin, and I stumbled on the twizzles."

Cain and Davydov had the fourth-best free dance of the competition, earning 44.10 points, and finished with 91.59 points overall.

Finishing with the bronze medals were Anna Gissibl and Alexander Colucci, who skated a lively number to music from the musical Hairspray.

"I feel good right now," Colucci said. "I bobbled the twizzles, and I think that was because I was nervous, but otherwise I felt like it was a strong performance."

Despite the error on the twizzles, Gissibl and Colucci still earned 44.86 points for their program, and 90.74 points overall.

Nastia Efimova and Jonathan Zhao placed second in the free dance but could not overcome the deficit they faced from the pattern dances earlier in the week and finished fourth.