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Rinkside in Portland: Mahbanoozadeh's time

Slow build for Mahbanoozadeh; Zhang tames her kick

Armin Mahbanoozadeh won his first-ever Grand Prix Series medal at Skate America.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh won his first-ever Grand Prix Series medal at Skate America. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/14/2010) - There were hugs and a few tears in the mixed zone when Armin Mahbanoozadeh and his coach, Priscilla Hill, found out the 19-year-old had won his first-ever Grand Prix medal.

"I'm so grateful to be here; I'm very excited," Mahbanoozadeh said of his bronze. "I felt very confident going in. I'm happy I did most of my elements well."

"Well" might be an understatement for the triple Axels in his free skate, choreographed by Irina Romanova to music from Avatar : judges assigned them the highest marks of the event.

"I've been landing the Axels consistently in competitions so that comfort level was there," Mahbanoozadeh, who placed fourth at Nebelhorn Trophy in September, said.

"We've also been working really hard on the spins, trying to get the levels. In the short, I made up a lot of points in the spins, and in the long, I just wanted to keep pushing that, because you can really get a lot of points on the spins."

Hill, who trains the skater in Wilmington, Del., said the entire season has been a slow build.

"Armin did just his short at Liberty [Summer Competition]; that was what he was ready for then, and it went pretty well. The long just wasn't done yet. And then he was monitored at a competition at Wilmington; that went decent. Because he hadn't been assigned a Grand Prix, he didn't do the elite [Champs Camp]. And then after Champs Camp, they said, 'We're going to give him Skate America.' He wasn't even there, so that was interesting. But they said, 'Be ready.' I thought, 'ok, how are we going to do this?'

"Then we changed a few things around after Oberstdorf, and then he had to do regionals, so it's just been a building process."

After placing 11th in the U.S. last season, 2009 U.S. bronze medalist Caroline Zhang changed coaches, moving to Tammy Gambill, of Riverside, Calif., to re-tool her jump technique.

Since then, the change is obvious: the high kick entrance to her toe jumps has been modified, and she's adding more speed to the entrance of her double Axel.

Making a lot of changes in a little time can cause skaters to doubt themselves, but Zhang says that for her, the opposite is true.

"I actually think [my confidence] is better, because I don't have expectations for myself," the 17-year-old said. "I was always self conscious about my technique because I got so much criticism for it. Now I actually see an improvement, so I'm much more confident."

In Portland, Zhang worked diligently on her flip and Lutz in practice, missing the jumps more often than not. But when she competed her short program -- choreographed by Tom Dickson to a Tango -- she landed a solid triple flip.

"I was actually very surprised to be missing elements in practice," Zhang, who sits fifth going in to the free, said. "Before I came here, I was doing well. I was very consistent, so it was a surprise for me to be falling on [flips and Lutzes] instead of landing them.

"I've actually tried to work on the entrances to my flip and my Lutz a lot and I think they've improved. Of course there are more improvements I can make, but for now, I'm happy."

Gambill said that while her pupil is not quite there yet, she's on her way.

"It's a work in progress," the coach said. "There's a long ways to go, but she's making the changes. It's difficult for her, especially under nervous situations. She tends to revert a little bit back."

Zhang would also like to develop a speedier, more impressive double Axel, and thinks she's making progress there, too.

"It's not where I want it to be," she said. "It was actually better in the summer, but since it got better, I stopped paying so much attention to it, so that it kind of regressed a little bit."

"I've seen it so much better [than it is in Portland], so it's not where I want it to be yet," Gambill added. "I know she's capable but again when she gets nervous she tends to get a little cautious. Hopefully by nationals she'll be firing it up more."

Regaining the podium at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is obviously the goal, and Gambill said she's impressed with how Zhang has handled the changes so far.

"It's always a building process," she said. "As long as she's working and trying to make those changes I'm happy with her."