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Miner surprises himself with U.S. junior title

SC of Boston skater takes down Junior Grand Prix medalists

Ross Miner, the reigning U.S. junior men's champions, will compete in Lake Placid.
Ross Miner, the reigning U.S. junior men's champions, will compete in Lake Placid. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(02/09/2009) - In a week filled with unexpected results at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, one of the biggest surprises may have been Ross Miner's victory in junior men's event. Also competing in the event were ISU Junior Grand Prix gold medalists Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Alexander Johnson and silver medalist Keegan Messing. It's possible that no one expected Miner to win, least of all himself.

"I had no expectations going in," he says. "When I got to Cleveland last [month], I would not have put money on myself! I would have been totally fine with sixth place. My goal was to get a Junior Grand Prix assignment next year. I really just wanted to be happy when I came off the ice. That has been my goal all season."

The Junior Grand Prix may well be in Miner's future, but first up is the 2009 World Junior Championships at the end of February. He is back on the ice at the Skating Club of Boston, training hard and even working on a new arm variation in his triple Lutz. His coaches, Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, have not yet decided whether he will move up to the senior ranks next season, although at this point they think it's likely that he will.

"Ross has everything you need," says Johansson. "He's fast, he jumps well, he spins well and he has a lot of personality on the ice. Also, you tell him something, and he believes that that's what he needs to do. There's never any doubt. He's very committed."

Miner, open-faced, talkative and intelligent, is a home-schooled high school senior who enjoys tennis and photography and is in the midst of a Scrabble obsession. He plans to apply to colleges next year. He grew up in Williston, Vt., where he started playing hockey at about the age of four. "Everyone plays hockey in Vermont," he says. "I was the best because I could skate backward."

He noticed the figure skating classes that met after his hockey practice and was intrigued. Soon he was taking figure skating lessons, and figure skating eventually won out, although he played hockey until he was 12 and still misses it.

At the age of 12, Miner and his parents moved to the Boston area so he could take lessons from Mitchell and Johansson. The move, temporary at first, became permanent a year later. Miner says he's surprised that the coaches took him on -- "I wouldn't have," he says -- because, although he had a single Axel, he couldn't land a clean double jump.

"He's a great kid," says Johansson of Miner today. "Very personable, funny, smart, fun to have around."

Miner won the intermediate title at the U.S. Junior Championships in 2006. The next year, he was expected to contend for the national novice championship in Spokane, Wash., but to his dismay he failed to qualify at the sectional championship, finishing fifth.

"I remember getting off the ice [after the free skate] and going over to Peter [Johansson], and being like, 'Oh, what was that?' I actually don't remember anything about the program after the first jump. I didn't totally realize the consequences of that program until two days later, when I was like, 'I'm... not... going to nationals.'"

"It was the best thing that could have happened," he says now. "When I got back, I made a goal to really skate more consistently on a daily basis, and I worked with my sports psychologist a lot to make sure I trained like I wanted to. And my competitions started getting better. Last year I had those nerves again in my long program at nationals. I tripped going out to take my opening pose. I was so shaky, and they called my name, and right before I presented I did a Superman dive."

Miner won the 2008 novice silver medal and competed at the Gardena Trophy last spring.

"I had a bad skate there too," he says. "When I got back, I was like, 'I need to figure out how to compete better,' because I was really sick of training and not having it pay off because I skated like an idiot.

"I had a lot of shows at the beginning of the season, so I tried to make every show like a competition. My formula for this whole plan was to get off the ice happy with my skate."

At the 2009 U.S. Championships, Miner said he felt focused, although not relaxed. "For my practices I was good, but when I went to compete I was really nervous. I lost my focus a little bit for the long." He commented on how much the support from the crowd means to him.

"They're there, they paid money to see it, and when you're going into your last jump and your legs are burning, it helps to have people cheering you on."

Miner, who turned 18 while in Cleveland, is an energetic and charming performer, known for humorous, entertaining programs like last year's surfing short program, done in a mock wet suit. He hopes to continue doing fun programs and says he loves watching Ryan Bradley skate.

His short program this year, set to "Cotton-eyed Joe" and the theme from Bonanza, delighted the crowd. In it, Miner portrays both a sheriff and an outlaw and implies a little gunfight with himself in the middle of the program. More importantly, he landed a triple flip-triple toe combination, a triple Lutz and a double Axel.

"I think it was the best short program I have done, ever," he says.

Two days later, he had what he called the worst six-minute warm-up in his life for the free skate.

"I was focusing on the wrong things, and I ended up skating like an idiot on the warm-up. I got off the ice, and I did not want to go back out there. Mark was like, 'You need to sit down and visualize your program and see yourself skating clean.'"

Backstage, Mitchell also tried to lighten the mood a little.

"We were talking about who our favorite skaters were, and I said, 'Oh, Brian Boitano is my favorite skater,' and Mark said, "So, Ross, what would Brian Boitano do?' And I was like, "He'd make a plan, and he'd follow through.'"

Miner skated a good long program, to a Gershwin medley, although he put a hand down on the triple Axel, turned out of the triple flip and had what he said was a "crazy" landing on the triple loop. But he landed seven triple jumps, did three combinations, got Level 4s on all his spins and won the gold medal.

"When I got off the ice, I was just happy that I'd made it through the program.... I was so focused on skating two good programs, and I could not have been happier with the short. That was the best short I've ever skated, probably the best program I've ever skated. Getting off the ice after the short, that was why I figure skate. That was such a great feeling. It was almost better than getting the medal. They could have put me in last place, and I would have been totally happy."