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High-flying Aaron wins junior men's short and free

Dinh stakes out independent path

Max Aaron is among the men competing in the Junior Grand Prix event in Japan.
Max Aaron is among the men competing in the Junior Grand Prix event in Japan. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/16/2010) - A strong group of 10 top junior men led by triple-Axel-wielding Max Aaron will take the ice for their final free program Saturday evening.

At the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Aaron impressed with his fast, high Axel, taking third in junior men behind Jason Brown and Josh Farris.

Here at Liberty, a slimmed-down version of the Colorado Springs-based skater won the short program on Wednesday, hitting the Axel; a triple Lutz, double toe combination; and triple loop to "Tango de Roxanne," choreographed by Catarina Lindgren.

Aaron's free, created by Tom Dickson to a Vivaldi medley, opened strong with another big triple Axel, done in combination with a double toe (scoring 10.70 points), followed by a triple Lutz, double toe; triple flip and triple loop.

Although Aaron fell on his second triple Axel, his 106.62 put him six points ahead of the field.

"I've been landing the Axel pretty much consistently since last year. We've tweaked it here and there," the 18-year-old, who trains at the World Arena under Tom Zakrajsek, said. "The goal is to be consistent with it when it counts, in competition."

Aaron makes no secret of his goal: the junior men's title.

"For sure, that's what I'm working toward," he said.

Training with Zakrajsek's group, as well as Canada's world silver medalist Patrick Chan, inspires him to aim high: by the time the 2011 U.S. Championships roll around next January, he wants a quad Salchow in his arsenal.

"Patrick doesn't miss much in practice; he hits the triple Axel, the quad toe," Aaron said. "Every time he's on the ice, he's ready to go. You always want to try to show him up -- he does a quad toe, then I'll do a [quad] Salchow. We go back and forth. And Josh [Farris] and Brandon [Mroz], they're landing quads too."

Alexander Zahradnicek qualified for the final with a second place in the short (52.53 points) and third (97.48) in the free.

Zahradnicek -- who like Aaron has already received his first Junior Grand Prix assignment -- showed a solid triple flip, triple toe combination; next, he wants to add a triple Axel, perhaps as soon as his next competition, the next month's Wilmington Open.

"My free here [to Tosca] wasn't my best, but I was very happy with it," Zahradnicek said. "I'll try to do better in the final and nail my first [triple] Lutz. I'm getting close on the triple Axel. We're going to try it out [in a free program] soon, maybe in two weeks."

Timothy Dolensky was eighth in the short (45.01 points) and second in the free (100.57), while U.S. novice silver medalist Emmanuel Savary was third in the short (51.65) and fourth in the free (97.41).

Liberty's junior ladies were split into four groups for their free skates, with high scorers reaching the final.

Another Colorado Springs-based skater, Lauren Dinh, made a statement in her "Danse Macabre" free: landing six triples, three in combination with double toe. (Her triple flip was under rotated, receiving a single "<" from the technical panel.) She won Group A handily, earning 91.98 points.

"That felt amazing," the 14-year-old said. "I think I landed six triples, and I felt I really performed it. I definitely think that was one of my best longs in a while."

Dinh, who recently changed coaches from Zakrajsek to Damon Allen, is competing at Liberty on her own.

"[Allen] couldn't make it so I put myself on the ice," she said.

Veteran coach Kathy Casey -- who is here observing programs in her role as a U.S. Figure Skating director of athlete performance -- said that's not unusual for Dinh.

"She would often want to skate on her own, even when she was younger," Casey said. "She is very independent."

"I try to be," Dinh agreed. "I don't want to rely too much on other people. They might not always be there for me. This is good practice."

Dinh, along with Group B winner Angela Wang -- impressive with another six-triple program, including two Lutzes -- and other top scorers, including those from Groups C and D, will compete in the junior ladies' final.