Quad in hand, Mroz focuses on other improvements

Quick hits from 2010 Champs Camp

Brandon Mroz is slated to compete at the Southwestern Regional Championships.
Brandon Mroz is slated to compete at the Southwestern Regional Championships. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/30/2010) - Brandon Mroz has always been known as a strong jumper, and this season, he's more determined than ever to prove he's also a strong all-around performer.

"I'm working on [skating] lower down into my knees, improving my posture," Mroz said. "We're working more on spins, footwork -- with the new rules, it really takes training time. Of course I'm still doing the jumps, but I'm trying to add character to my skating. I'm trying to cover it all."

The 2009 U.S. silver medalist's fall to sixth place at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships may be remembered as a turning point.

"I'm really motivated this year," Mroz said. "Going to L.A. [for the 2009 world championships] and being one of the guys who got the U.S. three men's spots for the Olympics, then not getting one of those spots, was a bummer. It fueled my fire. I'm definitely capable of a lot more."

To Mroz's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, the frustrating part about last season was that his skater didn't perform in competition the way he performed in practice.

"There were some bright moments, but he didn't put out the performances he could have," Zakrajsek said.

"It wasn't just one thing, it was several things. He was young, he was still growing, the pressure of trying to make the Olympic team, getting used to success. You know, he made the U.S. world team his first time out in seniors, and the more you do it, the more probable [success] is."

The quad remains a priority; Mroz plans a quad toe-triple toe combination in his short to Rossini's "Barber of Seville" and has practiced his free to Leonard Bernstein's On the Waterfront with two quads.

Zakrajsek thinks some of the ISU rule changes announced this summer could help his skater rack up higher scores.

"[The chances of] getting positive GOE's on lesser triples is reduced. They've taken out a footwork sequence, the penalties [for mistakes on] quads and [triple] Axels are less, and the positives are greater," he said. "We definitely want to include the quad in the short, for sure. Hopefully his combination spin will get a Level 4, and his other [spins] Level 3. He could build his short program score up to the mid-80s, maybe 90, who knows?

"It's not about one thing or another; at the Olympics, Evan [Lysacek] won and Plushenko was second, and it wasn't because of [program] component scores. You had two strong technical skaters, and they finished 1-2, even though others had higher components."

Commentator Sandra Bezic's critique of Mroz's skating on a TV broadcast hit home; the skater and his choreographer, Tom Dickson, visited her in Toronto to get her views on how Mroz could improve his performance style.

"He's never been hurt by criticism, ever," Zakrajsek said. "An athlete has to be honest; that's Sandra's word. When the audience sees honesty, they respond."

Mroz and Dickson hope to return to Toronto to work with Bezic again in the coming weeks.

Jeremy Abbott, whose first competition is NHK Trophy (Oct. 22-24), welcomed the chance to show his programs, even though he's still absorbing the new choreography.

"We changed the footwork [in his short to "Viejos Aires" by Ensamble Nuevo Tango] after Yu-Na [Kim's] show in Korea," he said. "The level wasn't quite right. Antonio [Najarro] re-worked some of the choreography; he made it more complex. Just when I was getting confident with the first draft, he changed it up."

His free, created by David Wilson to the Life Is Beautiful soundtrack, is even newer.

"I got it in mid-July," he said. "David Wilson choreographed it before Yu-Na's show [July 23-25 in Korea] and we've been building it ever since. I started full-out run-throughs a week ago. It's a well-paced program, very different from the short, which is intricate and intense all the way through.

"In the short, I have to focus on my facial [expressions] and constantly flex and point my arms and wrists; every movement is strong and staccato, which I'm not used to. I'm used to fluid, jazz-like, lyrical movement. The long is a bit simpler in terms of choreography. It's more about the story and emotion."

Adam Rippon says his programs -- Tchaikovsky's "Romeo & Juliet" and Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2" -- are right where they need to be for this time in the season, and he's on target for his fall debut at Japan Open, Oct. 2. His Grand Prix assignments are Skate Canada and Skate America.

Rippon (along with Junior Grand Prix competitor Christina Gao) trains under Brian Orser at the Toronto Cricket Club, and the Orser-Yu-Na Kim saga playing out in the media hasn't impacted their daily work.

"We've known about the situation longer than the general public, and we've had time to deal with it," he said. "It hasn't affected Brian's coaching, and it certainly hasn't affected my training. I'm just focused on practicing and doing my best every day.

"I hope everyone comes away better than before. I really wish Yu-Na the best; it's been fantastic training with her."

Athletes and coaches attending Champs Camp were treated to a sneak preview of the upcoming cinematic feature RISE, which tells the story of the loss of the 1961 U.S. world team in a plane crash and subsequent rebuilding of U.S. figure skating.

Many of the skaters lost -- including 1961 U.S. champion Laurence Owen and her sister, U.S. pair champion Maribel Owen; Maribel's partner, Dudley Richards; and coach Maribel Vinson Owen -- hailed from the Skating Club of Boston. Paul E. George, the president of the U.S. Figure Skating Foundation (and the 1962 U.S. junior pair champion with his sister, Elizabeth) shared his memories training at SCB with his late friends and their coaches.

For Ross Miner, the 2009 U.S. junior champion who trains at SCB, the words had special meaning.

"Training at SCB, you are constantly surrounded by the history of figure skating," he said. "There are banners running up the staircase. There are plaques honoring all who passed away.

"Some of the staff at the rink was around at that time. One story, I'll never forget, was from the guy who drove the Zamboni; he was the one who handed the plane tickets to Laurence Owen."

It was Grant Hochstein's first Champs Camp; the 20-year-old is making his Grand Prix debut this fall, at Skate Canada. For senior success, Hochstein and his coach, Lindsay O'Donoghue, know a consistent triple Axel is essential.

"I had been landing the triple Axel [in practice] for weeks, and I rotated both in my programs at Skate Detroit, and then it went on vacation," he said. "I decided to do nice double [Axels] at U.S. Collegiates."

After winning Collegiates, Hochstein returned to the Axel, and it's been going well.

"I'm definitely planning to put it in at least one of my programs at Finlandia [Oct. 7-10], and maybe the St. Clair Shores [Autumn Classic, Sept. 17-19]," he said.

Champ Camp Bytes
After a disappointing debut of their free dance at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Competition, Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein -- and their coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva -- didn't waste any time. They worked up a new free to Kander and Ebb's Cabaret that Chock calls "great so far. The choreography is a lot of fun. I'm really happy we did Lake Placid and heard that feedback." The team's short dance, set to Edith Piaf-sung Waltzes, was well received at Lake Placid. "At first we wondered how combining the Golden Waltz pattern, and some original dance elements, would work," Chock said. "But we love Edith Piaf, and we love the program."

Brian Orser said Brian Joubert's time at Toronto's Cricket Club this summer was brief but productive. "He came and got his programs done with David Wilson at another rink, and worked with us for two weeks. We did get a lot of work done; he loved the environment here. He's a nice, nice guy, and he worked hard. I was very impressed." Joubert, like Evgeni Plushenko, has been criticized for lacking transitions in his programs, and that was an area they targeted: "I think Brian has a better understanding of transitions; he knows they can actually be fun, if you understand them. He worked on his skating skills. Tracy [Wilson] holds stroking classes and he was involved with them."