by Martha L. Kimball
What is there to say about the Novice Ladies short program event besides the words Jessica Lee? The Pacific Coast Sectional champion skated second in the first warm-up group and left her mark on the day. Light, lovely and lyrical, she smiled as though nothing could be more entertaining.
"I had a lot of fun," she admitted after seeing her name at the top of the hot-pink results sheet. "It was great, and that obviously showed in my skating. It felt so good to be out in front of a lot of people my first time at Nationals."
The 13-year-old started skating as a winter leisure activity during a five-year period when her father’s business took him and his family to Korea. The first time she returned from the rink, she told her mother, "Mom, I want to be an Olympic champion."
Lee, wearing turquoise, took her time as she flowed through spirals and laybacks punctuated by a double Axel, a double flip, and a nice triple Salchow – double toe combination. The Californian received eight first-place ordinals, one second and one fourth.
Second going into the long program is Eastern Sectional champion Christine Zukowski of Newark, Delaware, who performed in black to "Hernando’s Hideaway."
"My performance and my presentation [were] good," Zukowski opined, "and I think I did the best that I could [today]."
Explaining a problem with her double Axel, the spirited and musical performer said, "The reason I stepped out of it was because it was too swingy, and I didn’t wait before I jumped." By swingy, she meant that her rotation was too open, not tight.
Peter Oppegard student Tenile Victorsen of Lake Arrowhead will enter the long program in third place. Explaining a hard fall during the warm-up, she said, "I wasn’t nervous. Just a little shaky. I landed too far back a little bit and just had to focus back in."
Victorsen’s program, skated to a piece played by cellist Joshua Bell, included a triple toe – double toe combination. She presented nice spirals and footwork but finished just ahead of her music.
"Tenile also played first-chair cello," Oppegard pointed out proudly, "so she brings pieces to me all the time." The precocious 13-year-old, by the way, is named for a violinist. Her older sister plays viola and her younger sister is a violinist. The siblings are short just one for a string quartet.
Victorsen may sound blithe, but her family recently suffered the effects of the fires, heavy rains and consequent mudslides in the San Bernardino mountains, and her rink was closed for a time as well. "I got through it. It was hard, but you’ve got to learn to get through everything."
Victorsen received ordinals from second to eight and almost every placement in the interval. Katrina Hacker of Rye, New York, ended the event with a majority of fourths among ordinals ranging from second to tenth. Fifth-place finisher Cara Kinney received two first-place ordinals plus a hodgepodge of other opinions ranging down to eighth.
The only clear consensus reigned in first and twelfth places, and it was clearly Jessica Lee who stood on top.
The ice at the Arena at Gwinnett Center was inordinately slippery today (Monday, January 5), as many Novice ladies discovered to their chagrin. At the end of the evening of long programs, the clear frontrunner had dropped to fifth overall; the third-place lady after the short program had tumbled unhappily to seventh; and the youngster who performed fourth in the first warm-up group stood on the medal stand.
The other news: a gritty competitor somewhat reminiscent of an early Elaine Zayak returned to her Atlanta hotel as the Novice Ladies champion.
First, what went wrong? What went most badly awry were the fortunes of Jessica Lee, who had performed her short program with the airiness and sureness of a young Michelle Kwan. On this day the Pacific Coast champion had no air in her balloon. The program to the much-overused Carmen contained not a single triple and very little sparkle. Ordinals ranged from one optimistic third to several tenths, resulting in sixth place for the long program, fifth overall.
Tenile Victorsen was the victim of her draw and her imagination. She had to perform last of the twelve Novice ladies. According to her coach, Peter Oppegard, she felt convinced that she couldn’t do so adequately, and the prophecy became self-fulfilling.
Exquisite in a fuchsia costume, with lovely spins and a dainty presence on the ice, the Pacific Coast runner-up put her hand down, stepped out, and fell through much of her jump content. With ordinals from a single fourth to an eleventh, she placed eighth for the long program and seventh overall. Said Oppegard philosophically, "If she wants to be competitive, she’ll have to learn to skate last."
The lovely Katrina Hacker left the dressing room area in tears. Fourth in the short program, the lithe skater in a bright red dress was dealt seventh in the long program, sixth overall, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. She accomplished three triples, though some were flawed, as well as a good spiral, a split jump, and a camel-to-Biellmann spin combination. Apparently it simply wasn’t her lucky day.
Cara Kinney, who rose from fifth to fourth with a single triple, a Salchow, perhaps had little of which to complain. After a fourth-place result at Midwesterns, she received ordinals from a single third to two eighths and eked out fourth place overall.
And now for the winners: Megan Oster, Danielle Shepard, and Christine Zukowski.
Oster skated so early that the press was still engaged in men’s interviews when she performed. She kindly obliged with an accounting of her highlights: triple Lutz, flip, loop, and Salchow in combination, performed to a Yanni medley. The young woman who trains in Zion, Illinois, rose from seventh in the short program to a majority of thirds for the long program and the Novice Ladies bronze medal.
Danielle Shepard, 14, fourth at Eastern Sectionals, delivered four triples and some stylish choreographic moves (some of the spin variations were acquired at a Doug Leigh training camp in Canada) to win a silver medal in her first trip to Nationals. Her one-foot Axel combination drew favorable notice. She rose from sixth in the short to take a majority of second-placed ordinals, joined by a third and even a first.
The big winner, however, was Christine Zukowski, who simply hung in there and did what she knew she could: four triples skated with spunk to new-age music by Bond. One of those jumps in particular surely impressed the judges: a triple Lutz in combination. It wasn’t always pretty. Her form was a bit ragged at times and her spins lacked finesse, but the girl who trains in Newark, Delaware, can jump.
Asked about a bobble, Zukowski replied, "I think I was so excited that my mind kind of got lost, and I wasn’t thinking about the jump at the time. I was just thinking about what I did before, so I messed up a little bit."
Asked about her goals as she advances to juniors, Zukowski replied, "I want to get my spirals a lot better, and I think my spins need to be more creative…. I just want to improve more, even on my jumps for next year."
Zukowski, a former Juvenile national champion, does the five basic triples and has even worked on a triple-revolution Axel, although that effort has been put on ice for the time being. Deadpanned coach Jeff DiGregorio, "I thought she had enough for Novice." That assessment certainly proved prophetic.
DiGregorio was reluctant to specifically compare Zukowski to his former pupil Tara Lipinski, but he summarized: "I see a lot of the same great qualities that Tara had in this one."
Added coach Pam Gregory, in describing Zukowski when she first appeared at the University of Delaware rink at age 9, "To me she looked like just a raw talent, not refined in any way. A big talent. I used to look at her, and it was just oozing out of her."
In Georgia this week, that talent overflowed.
J1: Kathleen Krieger
J2: Margery Schleh
J3: Jessica Bussgang
J4: Jeffrey Wolf
J5: Lorrie Parker
J6: Wayne Hundley
J7: Deborah Weidman
J8: Coco Gram Shean
J9: Glennace Cohen
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