Mroz to show a new side this season

Up-and-coming teen hopes to crash Olympic party

Brandon Mroz finished a surprise second at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Brandon Mroz finished a surprise second at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(06/24/2009) - When it comes to Brandon Mroz, we ain't seen nothing yet.

"After he competed at his first senior worlds and took a look around, he realized the top men have as close to the total package as you can get," the skater's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said.

"He's got kind of a playful personality; there's a little bit of a twinkle in his eye," added Catarina Lindgren, one of his choreographers.

"I see him as a big personality who can relate to a crowd. He's the kind of skater you would say, 'I would really like to have him in my show.' That's the kind of role I see him moving into."

That sounds great to Mroz, who is anxious to up the ante and beat out a few of his elders to make his first Olympic team this season.

"I love a good challenge. I love to go out there and shake things up," said the 18-year-old skater, who was born in St. Louis but has trained in Colorado Springs under Zakrajsek since 2005.

Mroz shook things up plenty at 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland this January. The teen placed second with the most technically proficient free skate of the event, including a quadruple toe loop, two triple Axels and a triple-triple combination in the second half of the program. In March, he placed ninth at his first senior worlds.

"I definitely felt I had a great season," Mroz said. "I had some great moments. I was happy with both my programs at worlds, although I could have skated better in the free. Now I have to build on them and apply myself for the Olympic season. I have to give it everything I've got. Olympic season is no time to hold back.

"I want to work on my program component scores. I already feel competitive jump-wise, since I've been top ten in the world. My skating matured a lot last season, but now I'm taking more dance classes, gaining better body awareness."

With Lindgren's guidance and Zakrajsek's blessing, Mroz is working with Kari Tafoya, founder of the Synergy Dance Academy in Colorado Springs.

"Brandon only just started about six weeks ago, but I hope this inspires him to step into this world a bit more," Lindgren said. "I'm encouraging him to stick with it."

Lindgren is banking on Mroz's greater freedom of expression for the new short program she recently choreographed for him to a Latin medley including Tito Puente's "Temptation," "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" by Perez Prado and "Mambo Jambo" by Terry Snyder.

"I really like the new short. It's different. I think it will be a shocker for most people that I can shake and move like that," Mroz said.

"I think it will be great," added Lindgren. "Brandon has good style and can dance very well. He's expressing himself in a new way. He blushes a bit when it's out of his comfort zone, but he's doing well with it."

Recently, Mroz headed off to Toronto for a week to work on a new free program, choreographed by Lori Nichol to Beethoven's "Symphony no. 5" and "Romance in F major."

Zakrajsek hopes a historic coincidence helps his student's cause. Beethoven's "Symphony no. 5" premiered on December 22, 1808, and December 22 happens to be Mroz's birthday.

"Lori Nichol is a genius. She's made my skating different. I'm hoping we can create a new magical program," the skater said. "A lot of people see I'm really consistent with jumps but I'm also putting a lot into my artistry. I really hope to see that reflected in my [program component] scores this season."

Mroz knows he also has to continue to improve technically to be counted among the world's best.

"Brandon has never been a national champion; that's something that drives him," Zakrajsek said. "He won silver as a senior last season, silver as a novice in 2006 and back-to-back silvers as a junior in 2007 and 2008. He also finished second in the JGP Final twice. We call it 'silver bells.'

"He also wants to get on the podium at his Grand Prix events, in Russia [the Rostelecom Cup] and Lake Placid [Skate America]. Those are realistic goals for this season."

Mroz is buoyed by the healthy competition at Colorado Springs World Arena, where he shares the ice with Zakrajsek's other pupils, including two-time U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt, 2007 U.S. silver medalist Ryan Bradley, 2008 junior champion Alexe Gilles and U.S. novice champ Joshua Farris.

Until this spring, U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott also trained at World Arena. His departure, to train at Detroit Skating Club under Yuka Sato, leaves Mroz as his coach's top-ranking male skater.

"That doesn't really matter to me," Mroz said. "It's a bummer Jeremy had to go, though. He was a great training partner. We all got along really well. It won't affect me other than I will miss him."

With names like Lysacek, Weir and Abbott, the U.S. is in a golden age of men's skating. But there hasn't been an American quad king since the heyday of 2002 Olympic bronze medalist Timothy Goebel, the first man to execute a quad Salchow in competition and complete three quads in a program.

Mroz may just pick up that mantle.

"It's possible at some point," he said. "We're kind of experimenting. I'm playing around with two quads in my long program. I don't know, but its fuel for thought.

"Depending on how things go, I could put the quad in my short program or a quad toward the end of my free. I do the quad in combination in practice, and I usually hit it. When I get my long done with Lori [Nichol], we'll play around with it. I gained a lot of experience last season and put it out at big competitions. If it's hot, it could definitely be in my short."

The skater hopes to add a second quad, the Salchow, to his repertoire this season.

"We are working on it. I'm out there with people with the poles and harness," he said. "The Sal is a bit trickier than the toe, but I love doing the quads. You make bank when you land the quads. It's risky but worth it."