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Zhou cuts down novice men's field in romp

Rising star impresses with dominating free skate

Vincent Zhou put himself on the skating map after triumphing by more than 25 points.
Vincent Zhou put himself on the skating map after triumphing by more than 25 points. (Tom Briglia)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2012) - Vincent Zhou cannot tell a lie: He loves attention.

"It's always good to be known," he said. "I'm blushing."

And that's a good thing, since the 11-year-old from nearby Palo Alto reeled off five triples, two in combination and two of which were triple Lutzes, with so much snap he made winning the U.S. novice men's title look all too easy.

"It's actually not easy, but it's always a good thing to make it look easy," Zhou said of his performance at the U.S. Championships. "I was really happy. It felt great. I had to really focus on what I was doing."

Zhou opened his martial arts-themed free skate, choreographed by Cindy Stuart, with the first of two solid triple Lutzes, followed by an under-rotated triple flip and double Axel-triple toe loop combination. Although a triple loop was also judged under-rotated, his spins were crisp, his split jump soaring and his closing flying sit spin high.

It all added up to 112.51 points, and Zhou ended with 164.96, outpacing the field by more than 25 points.

The budding star even treated the crowd to an extra martial arts pose in the kiss and cry.

"The photographer asked me to do my ending position again," he said. "Martial arts, it's kind of a sidecar for me."

"He's a big ham," Zhou's coach, Tammy Gambill, said, and then added, "He was very sharp today. I was really pleased with his performance. He does this on a daily basis, and just for him to keep his concentration up and do it when it counted is exciting to watch. I knew he was capable of doing this kind of program."

Zhou's diminutive size, extreme youth and jumping gifts naturally prompt comparison with Nathan Chen, another mighty mite who won the first of his two U.S. novice titles (2010 and 2011) at age 10. Almost 18 months older than Zhou, he is competing in the junior ranks here.

"I think he would make a good competitor," Zhou said of his future rival. "I'm looking forward to skating against him in the future.

"Over the summer, I really want to work on triple-triple combinations and add a few to my programs."

Fourth after the short, James Schetelich moved up to silver with a solid program to music from West Side Story that featured triple Lutz and triple flip combinations. The 15-year-old's composure was all the more remarkable, considering a bad fall he took in the morning practice that sent medical staff hurrying on to the ice.

"As I was skating around full speed, I just slipped off my heel and slammed my back into the wall," said Schetelich, who trains under Debbie Davis in Monsey, N.Y. "I've never done anything like that. I just lay there for a while. The rest of the practice was fine, after those 10 minutes.

"It was almost a plus for me, [because it] made me want to push everything a little more. The program was just one jump at a time, and I've never thought like that before."

Schetelich, who was third at Eastern Sectionals, placed second to Zhou in the free and ended with 139.77 points. Like Zhou, he wants to add a triple-triple combination to his repertoire next season.

"I love triple-triples. Hopefully, next year I'll be able to get on them," he said. "I'm doing Lutz-toe [in practice] and I love it."

Spencer Howe, fifth after the short, moved up to grab the bronze medal after a gutsy performance to music from The Phantom of the Opera. He took third in the free and earned 134.22 points overall.

The 15-year-old, who trains under Wendy Olson and Danelle Cole at Burbank, Calif.,'s Pickwick Ice, shook off a hard fall on a triple toe to land a triple Salchow and double Axel-double Axel sequence.

"I didn't get the reach back I usually get and ended up kind of just ripping it around," he said. "When I fell, I said, 'Oh shoot' and I knew that I had to land everything else, so I kind of sucked it up and pretended it never happened. It turned out good."