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Notes from day one in Lake Placid

Savary, Chen win intermediate men's groups

Katia Shpilband is happy with her qualifying performance.
Katia Shpilband is happy with her qualifying performance. (Becca Staed)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(12/11/2008) - The 2009 U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships are underway in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Moving on up
After winning the 2008 U.S. juvenile boys title, Kevin Shum wasn't sure what to expect coming back this year to compete at the intermediate level.

"It feels a lot different competing with all these skaters who are so good," said the 11-year-old from Piedmont, Calif. Following last year's win, he began working hard to perfect his double Axel. Although he didn't land the jump in his qualifying round Wednesday (it was downgraded to a single), he finished eighth in Group A with a 50.42 free skate score.

"I did pretty good, not the best I could skate, but I am happy with it," Shum said. "With a little more training, I would be better."

Moving up means tougher competition for Shum, but he is focused on his one and only goal -- "to just to do my best."

Last year's juvenile boys' bronze medalist, Nathan Chen, didn't waste any time showing off all he's accomplished since last year, including a very solid double Axel. Clad in a silver metallic shirt and black pants, the petite 9-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah, won first place in Group B of the intermediate men's qualifying rounds with a 60.25 mark.

"I just wanted to try my best, and whatever happens, happens," said Chen, whose favorite part about being here is "seeing my friends again."

What's in a name
A couple of very recognizable names showed up on the qualifying round roster Wednesday, including that of B.J. Conrad in intermediate men's and Katia Shpilband in juvenile girls.

Conrad, 13, is the son of Kitty Carruthers-Conrad, who won four U.S. pairs titles and the 1984 Olympic silver medal in pairs with brother Peter Carruthers. Shpilband calls Igor Shpilband "Dad." Igor is a former Soviet ice dancer and current ice dancing coach, best known for, at one time or another, coaching the likes of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White, to name a few.

Being the offspring of such legendary figures in the sport naturally has it ups.

"She's had a lot of experience so she can help me get through my tough times -- mentally and physically," said Conrad of his mother. "There's not any pressure to be this or that, she just lets me do my own thing."

"It's fun to have a dad that coaches," Shpilband, 12, said of her father. "He teaches me a lot of things about my skating, like my stroking. He did my footwork actually."

And some downs... "He tried to make my footwork really hard this year, but when I work on it more it gets better," said Shpilband. "It's not always easy."

Igor often tags along to watch and support his daughter, but this time, coaching duties called him to Goyang City, South Korea, where the 2008 Junior Grand Prix is being held.

"My mom is here though," Shpilband said. "She's always with me."

Local favorite
When Ethan Amaral took the ice during the first group in the intermediate men's qualifying round, the rink chirped with encouragement.

"C'mon Ethan! You can do it!" one friend-fan squealed.

Skating on home ice has its benefits.

"It's exciting to have all my friends and family here to support me because it's a big help," said 13-year-old Amaral, who moved from Greenwich, Conn., two years ago to attend the Olympic Center Skating School in Lake Placid.

His biggest support of all, however, is rooted in one very special person.

"My mom -- I wouldn't be here unless I had her," Amaral said.

Despite a spill on his double Axel, Amaral finished fourth in Group B in the intermediate men's qualifying round. He's enjoyed the perks of the Olympic Center Skating School since moving here.

"The school and the rink are right next to each other, so I train a lot more," he said."

He also belongs to a very close-knit group of friends, who are also his class- and rinkmates.

"I am going to U.S. Championships in January to watch my friend, Kendall Wyckoff, compete in novice ladies," he proudly said.

Wise beyond her years
One very familiar face floated around the Olympic Center during Wednesday's qualifying rounds -- four-time U.S. pairs champion, 1959 world champion, 1960 Olympic champion and current figure skating coach Ron Ludington, or "Luddy" as he is so affectionately called by many, doing only what he knows best.

"This is my 51st national championships -- senior and junior -- counting the first year I competed," he said. "You would think I would settle in. The thing that keeps me going is I just love kids."

This year, he comes as teacher to 10-year-olds JoAnn Tinker in juvenile girls and Emmanuel Savary in intermediate men's, both of whom are wise beyond their years -- a trait which Ludington demands when taking on pupils.

"These two kids both came to me and wanted to train under me, and I liked what they are about," he explained. "They are disciplined in their work habits. If they don't have good work habits, they are not going to make it. These two have great work habits, which turns me on completely because it makes my life a lot easier."

Nearby, an auburn-haired Tinker exhibited the poise of a 30-year-old woman, which Ludington likes to show off.

"Oh, I love skating," she said. "It's nice, and it's relaxing. I do it best when I am mad. It's very therapeutic." "You ask her a question, you get a dissertation," Ludington joked.

"I've been skating for five years," Tinker continued. "I care how I place, but you know I am more focused on how I think I did instead of how everyone else thinks I did, except for Mr. Ludington, of course."

She went on to rattle off her typical day at the rink -- hour by hour.

"It's that way, like, when she says 7:30 a.m., she means 7:30 a.m., not 7:31 a.m.," Ludington explained. "She's a very organized young lady."

"I am homeschooled," said Tinker. "I am supposed to be starting 5th grade, and I am finishing 6th."

Tinker went on to explain the workings of her iPhone before she left to take a dip in the hot tub in the hotel -- not without Ludington's approval, of course.

"Call me on the cell," Ludington called after her.

"I'll call you," she waved and wheeled away.

Savary, Chen win intermediate men's groups
Emmanuel Savary (University of Delaware FSC) leaped over Cale Ambroz (FSC of Bloomington), 66.48-60.37, in the intermediate men's qualifying group A. Savary skated a near flawless program, except for a negative GOE on his impressive triple Salchow-double toe-double loop combination jump midway through the routine. Ambroz skated clean but was given a Level 1 and negative GOE on his closing flying sit spin, as well as on his double Axel-double toe. Nathan Chen (Salt Lake City Figure Skating) narrowly beat Texan B.J. Conrad (Texas Gulf Coast FSC) to win group B. Chen received nary a negative GOE and landed nine double jumps en route to first place. Conrad opened with a very nice triple Salchow, but his double Axel was downgraded and he received a negative GOE on his double Lutz-double toe.

McGill wins juvenile girls group A
Ainsley McGill (Charter Oak FSC) won group A of the juvenile girls qualifying round. She skated a clean program, executing nine double jumps and three Level 4 spins for a total of 53.47.