Ice Network

Zhu blows away field en route to novice ladies gold

15-year-old wins by 35-point margin; Endo holds off Lake for men's title
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Beverly Zhu was in a class by herself among the novice ladies field, winning the free skate by more than 23 points and taking the title by a 35-point margin. The Southern Californian landed six clean triples (four in combination) during her 'Miss Saigon' routine, for which she was awarded 112.78 points, and she romped to victory with a total tally of 167.69. -Melanie Heaney

Beverly Zhu won the novice ladies title easily, while Goku Endo held off Max Lake to claim the novice men's crown at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California.

Novice Ladies Free Skate

Before she arrived in San Jose, Zhu was doubtful about her chances of making the novice ladies podium. On Wednesday, however, the high school sophomore stole away with the top prize, besting the rest of the field by more than 35 points. Her competition total of 167.69 set a new U.S. championships record for a novice lady.

"This is unbelievable," she said with a dazed look on her face. "I never thought that I would medal. I just wanted to do what I can do in practice, and today I was able to put it out there."

The champion landed six triple jumps, including an opening triple flip-triple toe loop combination, in her Miss Saigon free skate.

Zhu seemed nonplussed by her triple-triple accomplishment.

"I had all of my triples consistent except for the lutz," she explained. "So, we decided to go for a triple-triple. It took some practice, but it eventually came. I am happy that I was able to do it today."

Moving up from sixth place after the short program to capture the silver medal, Emilea Zingas was over the moon with her free skate performance.

"I feel amazing," she said. "I wanted to skate with no regrets because this was the last time I got to perform this program. I am so excited to be on the podium."

Performing to the skating staple "Malagueña," Zingas woke up the crowd with her snappy choreography and fiery facial expressions. She also threw in some strong technical content, including an opening triple lutz-double toe loop combination. Zingas had just one notable mistake -- a fall on her triple salchow in the middle of the program.

"The components are a bit tricky, but I feel great about the way that I performed today," she admitted. "The triple sal is a jump that I do all the time, so that was a bit frustrating, but I am overall very happy with how things went."

Zingas earned 89.25 points in the free skate and a competition total of 132.68.

Sixth in the competition last year, Violeta Ushakova finished with the bronze medal, even though she not happy with the way she skated.

"That was not my best at all," she lamented. "I'm not going to lie. I was a bit nervous, but I tried to stay calm and perform well."

Ushakova landed three triple jumps in her Samson & Delilah program, for which she earned 84.76 points, but she was plagued by small errors throughout. Still, with a competition total of 131.52, the bronze medalist was happy with her result.

"It's amazing," she said. "This is my second time here, so placing third is really exciting."

Calista Choi had the second-best free skate of the day en route to a fourth-place finish. She overcame a 10th-place showing in the short to finish with 131.20 points.

Novice Men's Free Skate

Endo, who hails from Harbor City, California, captured the novice men's title by the slimmest of margins, as he held off Lake by a mere 0.37 points.

"It feels really good," he said of the win. "It wasn't my best performance, but I am happy with the result."

Skating to "El Tango de Roxanne" from Moulin Rouge!, Endo started strong, executing a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination. He did suffer two major errors that nearly cost him the title, though: a pop on his planned triple loop and a fall on a triple toe.

"I popped the loop and fell on a triple toe. I was probably thinking too much on my loop approach, and then I think I hesitated on the toe loop and lost too much speed," Endo said.

Angela Nikodinov, who coaches Endo, believes the 14-year-old lost his focus after the mishap on the loop, and from that moment on, the program seemed to get away from him. 

"Of course, I am ecstatic that he is the novice men's national champion, but that was not his best," Nikodinov admitted. "He is working hard on improving his consistency, and this is uncharacteristic of what he does at home."

Still, Endo was especially pleased with the spins in his program.

"They were all Level 4, so that is an improvement over the short program," he noted. "My coaches kept telling me in the warm-up to check my positions, so that really helped me."

Endo finished second in both phases of the competition, but his total score of 156.14 points was enough to propel him to the top of the podium.

Lake, who sat third after the short program, landed six triple jumps -- including a gorgeous axel -- and moved up to second place overall. His "Cello Conterto in E" program was performed with maturity and a quiet confidence.

"It feels great," the silver medalist said. "It's the best that I have ever done at nationals."

Lake might have won the title had it not been for a fluke fall on a spin, an error that cost him a 0.50-point deduction.

"I'm happy that I was able to do the axel, but my spins didn't help me at all today," Lake said. "Overall, I am happy with my jumps and with my performance."

He finished with 155.77 points overall.

Overnight leader Nicholas Hsieh struggled during his Muse routine, but his performance was still worthy of the bronze medal.

"I'm a little disappointed, and I know that I could have done better," Hsieh said. "I am happy that I got a medal, and that I fought through the program."

The 15-year-old fell three times and was credited with just two clean triple jumps in what proved to be the sixth-best free skate of the competition.

"I guess it just wasn't my day today," said Hsieh, who ended with an event total of 151.64 points. "I fell apart a bit in the second half after I fell on my axel. My spins weren't very good, either."

Lucas Altieri completed his visit to San Jose in fourth place with 144.63 points.