Back to the basics: Edmunds enjoying teenage lifeKwan lauds 16-year-old's low-key approach following breakout year
The triple-triple is old hat for Polina Edmunds at this point in her 16 years-young life. But parking a car? Not as easy.
"I have my driver's permit. It's been going OK," the San Jose native said recently in a phone interview with icenetwork. "I think I'm pretty good at driving, but my family tells me otherwise."
Nearly eight months after shocking the U.S. figure skating scene with her second-place finish at the U.S. championships, resulting in her selection and participation in the Sochi Olympics, Edmunds has seemingly returned to the life of a normal teenager: She goes to school; she hangs out with her friends at the mall; she rides roller coasters; and she even retweets inspirational quotes -- from Disney characters.
"I think we try to keep a balance," said her father, John Edmunds, in a separate interview. "I think the fact that she goes to a regular high school helps her with social interaction and being sensitive to other people. She has a strong sense of character and personality."
"Strong" was the word many used to describe Polina's skating -- and confidence -- after her short program in Boston in January, when coach David Glynn brazenly described her as "2014's version of Tara Lipinski."
Unlike Lipinski, there would be no Olympic gold for Edmunds, but instead a sturdy ninth-place finish in Sochi and then an even stronger performance at the world championships in March, where she placed eighth and had the free skate's second-highest technical marks.
But as Sochi and worlds teammates Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold made the rounds -- appearing in Stars on Ice (which Edmunds participated in just a part of), attending Hollywood movie premieres and participating in talk shows and overseas tours -- Edmunds went right back to school. Right back to life at home with mom and dad, and right back to being a normal teenager -- a decision she seems plenty content with.
"[My classmates] were all really excited for me, but they knew that I wanted it to be normal like it was before," Edmunds said of returning to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose after Sochi. "Whenever I go out, I always have one or two people come up to me and ask me if I'm Polina. It's kind of weird that they recognize me. My friends think it's funny."
Polina says her friends have gotten good at playing paparazzi when fans want a photo with her, too.
The recipe obviously seems to be working: Earlier this month, Edmunds skated to a blowout win at Glacier Falls in the Los Angeles area, debuting her "Fairy Dance" (from Peter Pan) free skate and scoring a 201.44 overall, including a 135.80 for the free, numbers that would have earned her a fourth-place finish at worlds.
The goal for the 2014-15 season?
"I want to win at nationals and I want to be a contender at worlds," Edmunds said bluntly, harkening back to her team's confident talk in Boston in January. "My goal this year is to skate clean programs. I just really want to do the best I can on the ice. I want to finish high at my Grand Prix assignments and hopefully make the Grand Prix Final."
Edmunds started her junior year of high school this past week. She took chemistry over the summer in order to travel this fall. She'll skate at the 2014 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City and is assigned to the Cup of China and NHK Trophy leading up to the U.S. championships.
Former Olympic medalist and nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan lauded Edmunds' approach to keeping things low-key at this point in her career.
"I'm sure she's had opportunities that she's opted out from. Those are things that she'll have more of in the future," Kwan said in an interview. "It's hard to think that way, but she's 16 and a rising star. She's not a rising star, she is a star. She has another incredible four or eight years if she stays healthy."
Edmunds admitted to being glued to the TV with the rest of American skating fans to watch Meryl Davis and Charlie White on Dancing With the Stars this spring. Her big "Is this real life?" moment after Sochi? Meeting President Obama.
"Going to the White House with the Olympic team and meeting the president was definitely the highlight of everything that has happened after Sochi," Edmunds explained breathlessly. "It was surreal to see the White House and meet the president. It was crazy."
Not trying to grow up too fast off the ice has helped her mature on it. She understands her technical difficulty is as high as anyone's in the sport at the moment, and knows that it will take time for her to make a dent on the international stage.
"I've gained a lot of experience this last year," she said. "This year I'm working on skating my programs with more maturity and skating strong. I think anything is possible."
"In terms of people calling me the jumping bean, I see little glimpses of myself in Polina from when I was coming up," said Kwan, who remembered skating with Edmunds' coach Glynn as a teenager. "She has so much potential."
While not as young as some skaters like Kwan (or Lipinski or Sarah Hughes) when they had their breakthroughs, Edmunds' results came on fast -- and furious. After the 2011-12 season, Edmunds clearly found a new gear. Of the 12 U.S. events she competed in to that point, she had won just one before she went on a run, winning six competitions in a row and, ultimately, making the Olympic team.
"I always competed with girls who were two to four years older than me, and at all competitions, mostly I did very well. But I was still learning," Edmunds explained. "In 2012, I was fully ready to show all the difficult elements I had learned at nationals in San Jose. The next year, I won junior nationals, focusing on consistency and started winning."
While she focuses on her first full year on the senior circuit, Edmunds is still at home with her family and still thinks back to her experience in Sochi for motivation and guidance.
"It helps me a lot," she said plainly. "I have a goal now to get back to the next Olympics. Yes, the [Grand Prix events] I'm going to go to are huge, but I know my goal moving forward: It's the Olympics."
"I'm hoping to take my driving test soon," she added. "I'm feeling confident for that."