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Hicks channels Cohen in short program win

Kulgeyko places second; Dinh sits third

Courtney Hicks skated in one of Sasha Cohen's old costumes in the junior ladies short program.
Courtney Hicks skated in one of Sasha Cohen's old costumes in the junior ladies short program. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/25/2011) - Courtney Hicks didn't just look like Sasha Cohen on Monday night -- she skated like her, too.

Wearing the same dress, skating to the same music ("Dark Eyes") and having the same coach on the boards (John Nicks) as the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, Hicks grabbed a lead of almost eight points in the junior ladies short program at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

She was the only competitor to even attempt a triple-triple combination -- an opening flip-toe -- and she landed it cleanly.

"I've been working on [the triple-triple] since the beginning of the season," said Hicks, the 2009 U.S. intermediate silver medalist. "It's been going well since the weeks before nationals. I wanted to do it, and it went well."

Even with her big jumps, the high point of her program came at the end with her change foot combination spin, during which she hit a position that no one had ever seen before. That included the judges, who awarded her Grades of Execution of all +2 and +3 for that element.

The spin is a Hicks creation.

"I decided to try to make up something new. I experimented with a few things and came up with that," she explained. "It's called the Tw-Hicks (pronounced 'Twix'). When I go down, it's the Tw-Hicks Pretzel."

While Hicks said she selected the music, it was her coach who chose the attire.

"Mr. Nicks didn't like the other dress [I chose], so he asked Sasha if I could use one of hers, and she picked this one," Hicks said.

Placing second in the short was Katarina Kulgeyko, who has medaled in each of her last two trips to a U.S. championship competition (intermediate gold in 2009, novice bronze last season). She skated a clean program to the Tango Project's "La Cumparsita," which included an opening triple flip-double toe.

"I know I can do a wee bit better," said Kulgeyko, who overcame a three-month bout with shin splints early in the season. "It's been a long day today. I had practice in the morning and in the afternoon, but I got a nap.

A half point behind Kulgeyko is Lauren Dinh, who missed qualifying for last season's U.S. Championships as a novice. She trains with someone who somewhat famously failed to get out of sectionals and then came back the following season to win the U.S. junior title: Agnes Zawadzki.

"I can obviously see that last year [Agnes] tried really hard and worked really hard every day, and I saw it every day," Dinh said. "I'm really lucky to witness that."

Soft spoken off the ice, Dinh let the ebullient side of her personality shine through in her Charlie Chaplin program.

"It's a really fun piece of music to skate to. I enjoy it a lot," Dinh said. "Whenever I skate to it, I don't feel any pressure."

A very closely watched skater sits fourth. Mary Beth Marley has gotten a lot of attention at this competition, and most of it is because she will be skating with two-time U.S. pairs champion Rockne Brubaker later in the week.

But she showed Monday she's a pretty good singles skater, racking up 50.55 points to put herself in medal position.

"I feel I'm peaking at the right time," Marley said. "After I did the international (the Nestle Nesquik Cup earlier this month with Brubaker), I got very sick, and I couldn't train as well, and I got nervous. Now, everything is back to where it was before I left. I'm very ready to do my long."