Ice Network

Meticulous Pulkinen captures junior men's title

Tran holds steady to take silver; Naumov battles stomach flu to win bronze
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Camden Pulkinen wasn't at his absolute best Wednesday, but the Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist was still good enough to capture the junior men's title in San Jose. Skating to a Chopin medley, the Broadmoor skater landed six clean triples -- including two absolutely perfect triple axels -- on his way to a free skate score of 151.41, and he won the gold with 219.29 total points. -Jay Adeff

Take one look at Camden Pulkinen and you'll notice instantaneously that he's a perfectionist, from his gracious bearing to the ends of his expressive fingertips.

So when the 17-year-old from Gilbert, Arizona, won the U.S. junior men's title Wednesday in San Jose, he didn't initially discuss the superb triple axel-triple toe loop combination he hit at the start of his free skate to Chopin selections, or the equally strong triple axel he hit in the second half. His mind, instead, was fixated on the intended triple flip he doubled and the triple loop he turned out of.

"It's not what I wanted," he said, then paused and added, "But I can't complain. I stayed present; I did two axels, got a new personal best total (219.29 points), did triple axel-triple toe for the first time in competition. There are good things I can think of, too. We're going to go home and work on the program's flaws."

Since moving to Colorado Springs a few seasons ago to train with Tom Zakrajsek, Becky Calvin and Drew Meekins, Pulkinen has been all about just those things: staying present, setting goals and figuring out ways to get better. It's led him to ballet classes to refine his lines and to sports psychologist Dr. Alex Cohen, who helps him strategize for the pressure-packed moments.

"As soon as I got second (in juniors) last year, I told myself, 'I'm not going to lose next year,'" Pulkinen said. "The whole season, that's been in my mind, and everything's just coming together."

"Training alongside big names and people with that type of work ethic is an honor," he said. "I look at them every day and say, 'In a few years, I want that to be me.' It's good to have a model in front of you. I can say, 'I want to try that in my training,' but still keep Camden Pulkinen."

Dinh Tran, who hails from nearby San Francisco, took silver with a strong free skated to "Poeta" by Vincente Amigo and choreographed by Marina Klimova. He hit seven triple jumps -- including a triple axel -- and, like Pulkinen, skated with style and polish. He finished with 199.95 points.

"I knew it was going to go well because I've been training it really hard and ran through it a lot," said Tran, who trains in Oakland and San Francisco under Jeff Crandell, Igor Samohin and Charyl Bruschaid. "I was confident."

Tran intended to open his program with a triple lutz-triple toe combination but only did a triple lutz. Last season, that may have thrown him off, but this is a new year.

"I've gone through a lot of experience when I messed up on the first jump and let that affect my program," he said. "A lot of people have talked with me, worked with me. In practice now, I keep going through the whole program and complete it no matter how many times I mess up. That slowly develops a strong mentality."

Maxim Naumov took the bronze medal despite a severe stomach flu that kept him from eating for 30 hours before the free skate. His triple axel was downgraded by the technical panel, but he landed five additional triples to place third in the free and finish with 179.00 points.

"I felt the sickness overcoming me, and I had to just say 'no' and push through," Naumov said. "At the end, I had a big sense of relief. I haven't eaten since breakfast yesterday, so I'm running on a piece of toast and apple sauce. Not the best situation."

Maxim's father and coach, Vadim, the 1994 world pairs champion (with Maxim's mom, Evgenia Shishkova) was proud of how his son performed.

"Things like this happen with athletes, especially at the peak of your performance cycle, when your immune system is down," said Vadim, who trains his athletes at the Skating Club of Boston. "This morning we tried to skate, and after each jump, Maxim had to go to the boards. We weren't sure he was going to be able to skate, but he pushed through."

Ryan Dunk placed third in the free to climb from 10th place after the short to fourth overall with 172.68 points.