by Liz Leamy
Kai Kovar Earns U.S. Junior Men’s Crown with Memorable Free Skate
(5 January 2022) Kai Kovar (Wasatch FSC), the talented 15 year-old Ogden, Utah native, pulled up from second in the short program to first overall to clinch the 2022 U.S. Junior Men’s title in triumphant fashion.
Kovar, who is coached by his mom, Amanda Kovar, and Jozef Sabovcik, the 1984 Czechoslovakian Olympic bronze medalist in Utah skated a moving program to the Louis Armstrong classic ‘What a Wonderful World’ like a champion, knocking out all six triples through the Axel with the expertise of a seasoned competitor and racking up a 204.68 point total as well as a standing ovation from the Bridgestone Arena crowd.
As one of the sole skaters to perform a clean program in the junior men’s free skate event, Kovar was visibly calm, comfortable and confident throughout his program in which the narrative was clearly one of gratitude, one that seemed to strongly resonate with the audience.
In regard to his technical elements, Kovar did a triple Axel-double toe loop, triple Lutz-triple toe loop, triple flip, triple loop and double Axel-half loop-triple Salchow as well as some solid spins.
Kovar, who earned a 135.98 for his free skate, which was designed by Alex Chang, a former U.S. Men’s contender and director of The Rinks & Great Park Ice in Irvine, California and Molly Oberstar, said in regard to technical elements, that the triple Axel is one of his favorite jumps and that he is looking forward to working on the quads in moving forward.
“This music really inspires me and motivates me and I was really able to get into it [the program] and was really pleased with what I did today,” said Kovar. “I was really prepared for this competition and was able to stay focused and felt really relaxed.”
Kovar, whose air rotational positions are vertically aligned over the right axis in all of his jumps (he rotates counterclockwise), said off ice is a big part of his daily training routine to help him with his elements, especially the jumps.
Typically, Kovar does a 30 minute off-ice session before every on-ice practice, which usually lasts anywhere from two and three hours.
“I usually do stretching and rolling [exercises] for my off ice and then finish with those exercises after skating,” said Kovar.
Will Annis (SC of Boston), who was first in the short program, wound up taking home silver, earning a 127.06 for his high-octane free skate to ‘Sarabande Suite’ by Globus that featured his signature power jumps as well as other memorable elements.
In his free skate, Annis, who racked up a 202.87 total, executed a quad toe loop, triple Axel, triple Axel-double toe loop and triple flip (each of which had step outs or a slight touchdown of the hand) and triple flip with great height, speed and attack. He did however, double a planned triple loop, which caused him to lose some points. Annis lives in Duxbury and trains in Norwood, Massachusetts, the new base of the Skating Club of Boston with Olga Ganicheva and Aleksey Letov, whom he credited for helping to motivate and inspire him with his skating this year.
“Last year, with my skating I kind of lost a lot of motivation,” said Annis. “[My coaches] really helped me find the motivation again to work hard and put that effort in.”
Annis also said he was grateful to part of this competition.
“No matter what the results, I like to watch everyone,” said Annis. “Everyone works hard to get where they are.”
Maxim Zharkov (Dallas FSC), meanwhile, claimed bronze with a 188.15 total.
Zharkov was awarded a 121.08 for his dramatic free skate to Giacomo Puccini’s ‘E Lucevan Le Stelle’ in which he did a quad toe loop that earned him plus-one grade of execution marks, triple Axel, triple Lutz, triple flip and triple toe-double toe loop combination.
Zharkov, who was a definite on-ice presence with his black costume, flowing auburn hair and power-packed skating, did falter however on a triple Lutz and also doubled a planned triple loop which caused a slight point deduction in his overall score.
Still, Zharkov, who was a crowd favorite at the Bridgestone Arena and held the full attention of onlookers with his stealth, speed and attack in all of his elements, was excited at the prospect of competing in Nashville saying it was a win to be there in itself.
“For me, it’s not about the podium finish, it’s more about seeing my personal achievements and hard work finally come and show itself,” said Zharkov. “I’m finally creating more of a structured plan when I practice and seeing it work well in competition is what I do it for.”
Zharkov trains in Coral Springs, Florida with his father, Andrei Zharkov, and Artem Torgashev.