Top U.S. men talk quads at Champs Camp

Mroz joins forces with Buttle; Rippon plans quad Lutzes

Brandon Mroz has been spending time perfecting his quadruple jumps.
Brandon Mroz has been spending time perfecting his quadruple jumps. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/26/2011) - Last season marked the return of the quad, and U.S. men are determined not to lag behind.

Increased point values and other changes to the judging system helped inspire eight of the top ten male finishers at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow to try at least one four-revolution jump.

All three medal-winners in Moscow landed quads in their free skates. Two skaters -- Czech Michal Brezina and Spaniard Javier Fernandez -- hit quad toes and Salchows.

"Everyone is trying them again, and everyone is doing them again," Peter Johansson, coach of U.S. bronze medalist Ross Miner, said. "You kind of almost have to at the very top now."

Both Brandon Mroz and Adam Rippon hope to make a little bit of figure skating history this season, landing jumps that have not previously been ratified by the International Skating Union (ISU).

Mroz, who has landed many quadruple toe loops in competition, is training both a quad flip and loop.

"This year is all about going for the record book," Mroz said. "Mark my words, you'll see my name there. New quads will be landed, and Brandon Mroz will stand by that."

"Brandon watched worlds; he knows you need quads for the podium," Mroz's coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said. "Many of the boys are practicing two different quads and a few actually did them in their long programs, so Brandon knew he would need two, and then said why not three. When he sets his mind to it he gets things done."

Mroz attempted a quad flip in his "Mack the Knife" short program during Champs Camp's simulated competition. It didn't quite work, but the skater is glad he gave it a try.

"It's a bummer, because I've been doing it in practice," Mroz said. "I was trying to push everything, trying to push levels, be more into my knees, be more facially aware, and have fun."

Mroz, who has most frequently gone to Lori Nichol and Tom Dickson for choreography, is finding inspiration this season from a new source: 2008 world champion Jeff Buttle.

"[The short program] is very tricky, a lot of cool transitions, a lot of cool moments. It's definitely a step up for me," he said.

"It was out of my norm, but I'm really glad I did it. Jeff and I work really well together, so I wanted to go back to him for my long."

The free skate, completed in Toronto just two weeks ago, is set to Bizet's Carmen.

"Brandon has always done well with Spanish music; he's done 'Malaguena' and Spanish themes," Zakrajsek, said.

"I did pick Carmen with that in mind, but I also felt it was music the audience could relate to and clap along with. In all fairness, it's been a criticism of Brandon's skating that he doesn't always have the audience behind him; he is sometimes introverted. Jeff liked the idea, but he couldn't do the long until much later because he had some commitments for shows, so we waited."

At Champs Camp, Mroz performed last season's free, On the Waterfront during the simulated competition. During the critique, he did Carmen.

Skater and coach praised Buttle's efforts.

"He's got a lot to give, and he did a great job for me," Mroz said.

"Jeff knows IJS, he knows great skating, he knows music, he's a trained dancer and he is first rate," Zakrajsek said.

"Right after 'Mack the Knife' was edited, probably in about 15 minutes, we had the order of elements. Jeff just went through it saying, 'You need 15 seconds for this and 25 for that.'"

Mroz readily admits he was off his game at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where a disappointing free relegated him to seventh place.

"It wasn't my best and it was kind of a letdown because my Grand Prix [events] were so good," he said. "I went from not having a Grand Prix medal to medaling at both of my events and almost making the Final.

"Nationals was tough. It was a great event, a lot of people skated their best in that moment. It didn't go the way I wanted. I also hurt my shoulder right before the event and it kind of put a dent in my training.

"Any sport you learn from your failures and apply that to your next move. That's what being an athlete is all about. I'm a quick learner and I learned something about myself in that moment, and it will definitely make me a stronger athlete."

Rippon, the two-time world junior champion who placed fifth at the 2011 U.S. Championships, plans to include the quad Lutz in both his short program and free skate this fall.

"It's been going well," Rippon said. "I've been training it consistently and just doing my best to incorporate it into the programs with the other elements, because it kind of brings a whole new challenge putting it to music.

"I'm confident and it's one of my goals this year. I'd like to do one in the short and one in the free."

The skater first landed the jump while visiting Colorado Springs this spring.

"It happened when I got new skates," he said. "I have done Lutzes the past few years with arms over the head, and when I was breaking [the skates] in I decided to do one with my arms in a normal position, and I got a lot of lift.

"I was working on it on the [jump] pole with Eddie Shipstad, and he said I think you can do it, so I tried it without the pole and it just worked."

Rippon, who moved from Toronto to Detroit early this summer to train under Jason Dungjen, has also worked to improve the consistency of his triple Axel.

"Another one of my goals [is] I want to do a triple Axel-triple toe [combination] in the long," he said. "I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself to do it, it's just another jump and I have so many other elements in the program. It's going much better and I'm working on the technique and it's steadily improving."

Also on the quad track
Armin Mahbanoozadeh, last season's Skate America bronze medalist who placed sixth at the 2011 U.S. Championships, has included the quad toe in his programs at competitions this summer.

At Champs Camp, he tried the jump in his short to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

"I've been landing [the quad] in practice this week; it's a bummer I wasn't able to do it [here]," he said. "I thought it was a pretty good attempt...Even when you fall you can still get six points for the quad toe. I think it's really worth putting it in and I'm not planning on taking it out."

Mahbanoozadeh's coach, Priscilla Hill, has focused much of the skater's efforts on the jump.

"Beginning of the summer, it was really, really good, and right before [Skate Detroit, July 19-23] and then right after Detroit, he took two nasty falls and had to take a break," Hill said.

"Then he had to get back to where he was and those breaks on quads don't help. He's landing it again, it's just not as consistent as it was earlier."

Mahbanoozadeh is working on other ways to strengthen his programs.

"I'm looking for the plus twos and plus threes [in grades of execution] on the spins and footwork," he said. "That adds up, and when the judges see you have high levels and no weird deductions, then the performance (program components) can also be higher.

"In my free skate [to music from Kill Bill] I start with quad, and do a triple Axel in the second half and a triple-triple [combination] in second half. I've been told [this summer] my footwork is between Level 3 and 4, but we keep on touching it up here and there [to get Level 4]."

Miner, who placed 11th in Moscow in his world's debut, hopes to add the quad Salchow to his programs, and he's also working to shorten the lead time into his jumps.

"What I noticed at worlds watching Patrick [Chan] and Takahiko [Kozuka] and that ilk, they weren't taking any time setting up for their jumps, they were just going right into them," he said.

"That's something I've worked on a lot, especially in the long program. It's something I've improved on a lot since worlds."

As for the quad, Johansson said it's a work in progress.

"He was definitely landing it earlier this summer, then when he started training it in the programs, it takes that much more," he said.

"That's where we are right now, to get it in the program. It's so much energy going on that it's not just to land the one, it's to sustain the concentration going after. Everyone struggles with it in the beginning and this is the first year we're working on it."

Quadruple toe loops are nothing new to two-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott; like Mroz, he's included many in his programs over the years. Heading into his fall Grand Prix events, with last season's boot issues resolved, he plans to put the jump back into his arsenal.