Imagine getting to see Hank Aaron playing Little League baseball. Or getting to see Joe Montana play for his high school football team. This is the experience I had when I attended the Junior Olympics in Anaheim California. The Junior Olympics are the National Championships for Juvenile (8 - 12) and Intermediate (8- 16) level figure skaters. From April 23-25 I watched the next generation's Peggy Flemings and Scott Hamiltons strut their stuff.
The overall quality of the skating I saw at the Junior Olympics amazed me. I expected some solid routines but a lot of falls. In the first day of competition only 1 lady and 1 man fell in the Intermediate Short Programs. At least half the Intermediate Ladies executed a double axel/double toe combination. That is the same combination that Oksansa Baiul performed to _win_ her Olympic Gold Medal. (At the time a judge had the nerve to say that the double axel combination is harder than Nancy Kerrigan's triple toe/triple toe. The Junior Olympics I reminded me, yet again, how badly Kerrigan was cheated.)
Amongst the Juvenile girls the combination of choice is the double loop/double loop combination. Undoubtedly they are inspired by Tara Lipinski's record setting triple loop/triple loop. I am amazed at how many young girls landed this very difficult two edge jump combination. The depth of American Ladies skating is astonishing. No wonder that in the nineties American women have claimed the World Title five times.
Pennsylvania has never been a hot spot for figure skating. This may soon be changing. I saw some growing Pennsylvania skating talent in Anaheim.
An adorable 11 year old from Valencia Penn, Amanda Fritz spun and leapt her way to a silver medal in the Juvenile Girls Division. Fritz, representing the Mt. Lebanon Figure Skating Club, is a bubbly, energetic young lady with great presentation. Her personality leaps right off the ice. Fritz has wonderful footwork, and fast well centered spins. Her jumps have the tight quick turns that are reminiscent of Tara Lipinski. She intended to celebrate her Silver Medal in a typical sixth grader fashion with a trip to Disneyland.
Ye Bin Mok won the gold in the Juvenile Girls Division. She is a solid jumper with beautiful flow over the ice. She also is a great spinner and included a Biellmann and no hands illusion spin in her program. In fact great spins were the rule of the day in Anaheim. The USFSA is starting to place greater emphasis on spins, both in training and judging. This emphasis is reaping results in these young skaters. I saw some better spins in the Intermediate division than I have seen at the Junior division.
Pennsylvania's victories continued in the Intermediate Dance. The Gold Medal went to Allison Seitchik and Brent Bommentre from the Wissahichon Skating Club in Philadelphia. They are a very expressive pair with great presentation. Last year they were Junior Olympic Champions in the Juvenile Dance Division. Lauren Mattocks and Matthew Inman from the Meadville, PA Figure Skating Club finished fourth in Intermediate Dance. They are a very elegant pair with beautiful lines and a long stretch to their moves.
What's in a name? Well when the name is Kwon quite a bit, even if the spelling is different. Elizabeth Kwon of Fairfax, Virginia, no relation to Michelle Kwan, easily won the Ladies Intermediate Championships. Just ten years old she already shows tremendous artistic and technical maturity. She landed jump combinations and a three jump series with ease. Kwon is also a great spinner. Her spin repertoire includes a beautiful, well centered Biellmann spin and one of the few scratch spins at the intermediate level.
Another stand out in Intermediate Ladies is Sasha Cohen. She finished fifth because, as usual, the judges were insane. She has beautiful spirals and like Kwon is an excellent spinner. She is also very artistic with lovely form and posture.
Alas our young men are not so deep nor so consistent as our young ladies. Michael Villarreal won the Intermediate Men's Division with sold jumps and a dramatic concluding scratch spin. His presentation is weak though. He performed the very well choreographed routine as if he were a puppet on strings. My favorite amongst the Intermediate men is Evan Lysacek. He had the best presentation in the competition along with excellent spins and a lutz/loop combination. A fall knocked him to fourth place.
By far my favorite part of the event was seeing the large number of young people who competed in the School Figures event. School Figures of course were taken out of world level skating in 1991. They are now a separate event in National Competitions. It amazes me that children 8 - 12 years old still learn these very hard, very exacting tracings on the ice. The thought of children with the patience and dedication to compete at this rigorous and, even for the most devout fan of skating, tedious discipline warms my heart. If, despite family breakdown, disintegrating schools and MTV, we can still produce Juvenile Figures competitors than perhaps there is hope for the future.
So here is a very special congratulations to the medal winners of the figures competitions. Juvenile Girls Division: Janelle Cogley, Carol Schiffmann, Kailee Watson. Ladies Intermediate Division: Abbey Spresser, Nicole Lemanski, Lindsay Crawford. Men's Intermediate Division: Michael Nigh, Jordan Mann