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Monster free skate propels Chen to gold medal

Taylor takes silver; Vinci holds on for bronze

Karen Chen's free skate score helped vault her to the intermediate ladies gold medal.
Karen Chen's free skate score helped vault her to the intermediate ladies gold medal. (Renee Felton)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(12/18/2010) - Karen Chen's coaches, Sherri Krahne-Thomas and Gilley Nicholson, were moved to tears as her scores were announced following a free skate that has the Salt Lake City Sports Complex buzzing.

"I couldn't have picked a nicer girl for this to happen to," Nicholson said. "She is a hard worker, she believes in herself, and she has her heart in this."

The 11-year-old earned a total of 119.92 points -- the highest score at the intermediate level since the International Judging System was implemented in 2007. Her free skate was good for 79.30 points, 40.62 of which came on technical elements.

Fans, competitors, coaches and officials were in awe of the 11-year-old's spins, triple jumps and footwork.

As Chen took the ice, eventual silver medalist Elena Taylor had the lead with 106.80 points following a beautiful performance to the music of Michael Smith. Short program winner and bronze medalist Madison Vinci immediately preceded the gold medalist and earned 100.30 total points.

Chen, from the Peninsula Skating Club, set the stage for the program of the week with a Level 4 layback spin that earned 4.20 points and received straight 3 grades of executions from the judging panel. As a point for comparison, her double Axel, which earned positive GOEs, scored 3.80 points.

The Russian Waltz-inspired free skate continued with a double Lutz, double Axel and triple Salchow-double loop-single loop sequence. She added two more Level 4 spins and threw in a second triple Salchow.

For Chen, the program really didn't start until she hit the aforementioned Axel.

"My favorite part of the performance was the double Axel," she explained. "It set the tone for everything. I was well-prepared for this competition. I'm so happy that my hard work has paid off."

A year ago, Chen finished fourth as a juvenile. And her stop at the intermediate level will be a short one. She will take her novice tests and begin training her new programs next week while many skaters take time to unwind after this strenuous competition.

"It was her idea," Nicholson said. "She feels that next season starts now."

Taylor, from the Dallas Figure Skating Club, entered the free skate in third place. The program started with a triple Salchow-double loop combination and she kept the momentum throughout the skate with a layback spin, double Axel and energetic choreography.

"I felt great out there," she said. "I was so happy toward the end of the program because I knew I had done everything as well as I could have."

Despite a seventh-place showing in the free skate, Washington Figure Skating Club representative Vinci was thrilled with a medal-winning performance at her first U.S. Junior Championships.

"This is awesome," she said. "I was really excited just to come to Salt Lake and wasn't even thinking I would medal."

The 14-year-old eighth grader expects that this will be her first and last trip to the Junior Championships as she plans to take her novice tests in early 2011. Vinci's teammate, Brianna Laxson, finished fourth with 98.13 points.