by Karen Frank
(19 January 2016) After finishing eleventh in novice men in the 2015 Nationals – nine places below his silver medal in 2014, Eric Sjoberg didn’t think he was going to be able compete this season, and he didn’t begin training until summer. But when his coach Rafael Arutyunyan stated, “We’re happy now,” Sjoberg emphatically nodded and smiled in agreement. Attributing the drop in placements from 2014 to 2015 to a growth spurt, Arutyunyan turned the focus to off-ice training and injury prevention. Trainer Denys Petrov has Sjoberg working out on a track, practicing sprints and hurdles. “I almost spend more time off-ice than on,” Sjoberg stated.
The hurdles have paid off. Sjoberg won both the short and free program, landing the triple Lutz-triple toe combination in both. He skated a relaxed and confident short program to a medley of tunes from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, showing personality in the spins and steps. In the free skate, to Leonard Pennario’s Midnight on the Cliffs, Sjoberg calmly landed seven triples, receiving five bonus points in the process.
New to the scoring this season, these bonus points are awarded at the Novice level to encourage skaters to attempt different triple jumps and triple-triple combinations. In both the short and free programs, skaters will receive a +2.0 bonus for a triple/triple jump combination and a +1.0 bonus for each different triple jump achieved (not done as part of a triple/triple combination). Skaters will receive the bonus even if they fall on the jump, as long as it’s not downgraded. At this level, a skater could receive up to nine bonus points per competition. Between his short and free program, Sjoberg received eight bonus points.
Fate unfortunately, threw an extra ice make in the middle of this bonus bonanza. Both Sjoberg and silver medalist Peter Liu were forced to wait a long time before skating, as blood on the ice forced an extra Zamboni break. It didn’t appear to affect either of them. After his extra warm-up, Liu landed five triples, falling only on a rotated triple Lutz. His second place free skate to music from Robert Rodriguez’s Frida soundtrack moved him up from a third place short program. Using another Rodriguez composition, Guitar Town, (from the film Once Upon a Time in Mexico), Liu’s short program showed off not only his cleaning jumping technique, but also his spinning abilities.
In second after a well-skated Feeling Good short program that displayed his flow across the ice and strong edges, Maxim Naumov, slipped to third after a fifth place free skate. After a rough start, where he fell on a triple Lutz, badly under-rotated a loop (which the judges then downgraded) and had a spin zeroed out, he managed to get things back together for the rest of the program. “Unfortunately, things happen like today on the Lutz,” Naumov stated, “but the important thing is to keep going, and I did that today.” Along with his ability to recover from early jump problems, Naumov’s skating skills are beautiful, and the judges rewarded those accordingly with high PCS marks.
Fourth in the short and free programs, William Hubbart, who finished eighth last year in Novice, improved upon that result to win the pewter medal this year. Hubbart, who also skates pairs (he qualified for Nationals in Novice Pairs, with his sister Joanna, but they had to withdraw due to her injury) broadcast enjoyment of his Winter short program to the upper rows of the Xcel Center. He skates with verve and energy, and complete commitment to his choreography. Though his Rhapsody on a Theme & Caprice 24 (Paganini) free skate was marred by sloppiness on several jump landings, he did complete a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, receiving the 2 point bonus for that element, as well as two points for including triple loop and triple Lutz attempts.
Though his ninth place short program kept him off the podium, Ryan Dunk rebounded with a third place free skate that flowed wonderfully over the ice to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Trio 2 and Piano Concerto 3. Picking up the triple Lutz – double toe combination that he missed in the short program, the Maryland native came within two points of medaling this year.
Also making a huge leap in the standings, Derek Wagner moved up from last to sixth, with a clean free skate to the Rudy soundtrack. A tall skater, with a long, elegant line on the ice, Wagner was rewarded for his technique with very few negative GOE marks. Like several skaters in the field, he also received four bonus points for attempting different triples.
It is not known yet whether US Figure Skating’s new scoring bonus will pay off in the future. Forty-three bonus points were awarded during the free skates, with eight skaters attempting triple Lutzes. Last year, in the same event, two skaters included the triple Lutz in their free skates. Was the increase in difficult jump attempts because skaters are more willing to include jumps that are inconsistent in practice? Was it because the new bonus selects out the more technically aggressive skaters over the ones who add difficult features to easier jumps? Or, was it a merely a coincidence – maybe the skaters in this field all happened to be ready to put their harder jumps to the test (with or without the carrot of a bonus). It’s anyone’s guess.