by Anne Calder | photos by Robin Ritoss

Watch and Learn

US Figure Skating hosted the Sixth Annual Novice & Junior Challenge Skate September 13-17, held in conjunction with the 2017 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic.

Both events were held at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex, the official figure skating training center for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

The goals of the Challenge Skate were for the novices and juniors to be part of an international setting, observe a senior competition, and to have fun. Invitations are usually given to high-level teams that had not yet been assigned to Junior Grand Prix competitions. The exception at this competition was Isabella Amoia & Luca Becker, who had just come back from their first JGP event in Austria. Amoia & Becker won the Challenge skate junior title, while Gianna Buckley & Jeffrey Chen led the novice field.

“2-4-6-8, Who Do We Appreciate?”

The team leader for the Challenge Skate was Colin McManus, 2016 U.S. ice dance pewter medalist and former international competitor.

Prior to the senior short dance, McManus corralled the novice group to watch the event together. Several dressed in red, white, and blue as they cheered for all the teams, but a bit more enthusiastically for the USA.

Anna Nicklas enjoyed their camaraderie. “The most fun I had was when we got together as a group to cheer for the seniors,” she said. “It was really fun because we had these pom poms and things.”

Jordan Lin added, “It was fun to cheer the seniors on – GO USA!”

Caroline Liu was excited about the skaters watching the event together. “We decorated one of our friends in all the USA colors. It was really fun.”

Senior Surveillance

The youngsters tried to pick up tips by watching the seniors that have made it to international competition.

“I get confidence watching the seniors,” Morgan Sletten said, “not just cheering them on, but really watching them. It gives me more confidence in myself.”

“They really use their hips and upper body,” Anna Pettersson said.

“I like their connection with one another – the way they skate together with confidence,” Buckley said. Chen added to his partner, “I like the way they attack everything.”

T.J. Carey is a novice-level dancer who loves to keep up with the top competitors around the world. “Watching the live skating instead of from my computer gives me even more love of the sport,” he said.

“You see them all online, and you watch their videos, but when you see them skate in person it’s totally different,” Ryan O’Donnell added. “This is what you should be aspiring to be.”

They were lucky to see Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, top-ten in the world and Grand Prix Finalists, well known in the U.S. for their interpretative abilities. Hubbell & Donohue won the senior short dance with a score of 71.15. Five other teams score between 50 and 60 points, so the novice and junior teams had a lot of quality skating to admire.

“I really like all the sharp moves and their interpretation,” junior skater Alexander Petrov said.

“I liked how they expressed the music,” Lin said.

“I learned that Instead of everybody doing the same, monotonous happy and pretty,” Max Ryan said, “there are so many different facets you can choose to show. There are so many different emotions and styles of skating.”

Molly Cesanek was impressed with how “in the rhumba dance, they each had their own unique version of the dance.” Her partner, Nikolay Usanov, added, “what’s amazing is how they glide across the ice.”

“It was like watching a ballet,” Katarina DelCamp said.

“All the emotion they showed to each other you really don’t see on TV,” Alina Efimova noted. “When you see it live, there’s a real connection.”

Katarina Wolfkostin and her partner Howard Zhao train with some international teams at the Detroit Skating Club, including U.S. Classic silver medalists Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Backer, but they were still able to pick up a new perspective over the week. “Once you think you’ve made it a step up, there are even more steps to move up,” they said.

Oona Brown and her brother Gage watched the seniors and came up with a new strategy: “Express yourself – show the judges that you’re a good team.”

“They [the seniors] make their performance an entire thought-out process,” Kenan Slevira said. “It flows throughout really nicely.”

Proving that the seniors really were on display the entire time they were at the competition, Susan Talbot noted, “It was very interesting the way they warmed up.”

Fun is Good

A few of the skaters shared their fun experiences at Challenge Skate.

“One of my favorite restaurants is here in Salt Lake City—The Paris Bistro,” Max Gart said. “It’s a really quaint restaurant with French food.”

Anna Pettersson confessed fun for her was, “Just hanging out with the other competitors.”

Becker took a busman’s holiday for his fun. He watched skating! “For me what’s really interesting is there are lots of high-level skaters here,” he said. “It’s not such a huge competition, so it’s been fun to sit in the stands close up and watch the top teams in the world competing at such a high level.”

Amoia, his partner, said that she had fun attending the classes that the younger skaters were offered. 

Katarina DelCamp went shopping. “We went to this gorgeous mall – so big,” she said. “People are so nice here.”

Howard Zhao enjoyed watching his mother, who rented a Tesla while in Salt Lake City. “It was so much fun watching my mom for 10 minutes as she tried to start the car before she realized there was no engine to turn on.”

But for the whole group, it seems that US Figure Skating’s goals were met. The younger dancers learned a lot from watching the senior teams and enjoyed their experience.

“It was fun to not only have the competition, but the camaraderie of all being friends,” Cesanek concluded.