Ice Network

Champs Camp Chatter: Zhou gets new free skate

Chen sets aside outside distractions; Rippon marks 10th senior season
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Amid heightened expectations this season, Nathan Chen (left) and Vincent Zhou are trying to stay focused on honing their craft. -icenetwork

As Vincent Zhou prepared to show off his programs to U.S. Figure Skating judges and officials at Champs Camp last week, he had more than quads on his mind.

At age 16, the world junior champion was thinking line, performance quality and transitions -- each among the ingredients that helped lead him to success during his first senior international season.

"The quads are big point-getters, so it's very important to do them and do them well," Zhou said. "The hard part is when you do quad-quad-quad without any break or time to actually portray the character or movement. That's something we're really focusing on, because I don't want to be known as crazy quad kid."

The driven teen has landed three different quads in competition -- salchow, lutz and flip -- and is working to perfect a fourth, the toe loop. That technical virtuosity makes it a bit easier to focus on the finer points of performing, and Zhou worked with Charlie White to choreograph a free skate in May, set to music from the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet.

Prior to Champs Camp, though, he and his coaching team -- including Tammy Gambill in Riverside, California, and Drew Meekins and Tom Zakrajsek, who are based in Colorado Springs -- decided to go in a different direction.

"The new program is to (music from) Moulin Rouge, it was done by Jeff Buttle, and it's absolutely amazing," the skater said last week. "This is only the second day of it, so it's nowhere near where it's going to be, but I feel like it's already very good. Of course, I have a lot to go, and we're working on it."

Zhou counts his work with White this spring as time well spent.

"I learned a lot about new types of movement, jump patterns and timing, and (how to) do more than three quads in a program," he said. "It was a great experience."

Meekins said the goal of the free skate was to be "youthful, without being junior," and they sought out something more uplifting.

Zhou's face lights up when he talks about the Moulin Rouge selections.

"We're using 'Come What May' as the final piece, and I don't think anyone has ever skated to that before. At least, I have never seen someone skate to it," he said. "It gives me chills when I listen to it, and I hope the audience thinks the same."

Zhou gained confidence at Skate Detroit in July, when he hit both quad lutz and quad flip in his short program, and followed that up with four quads in his free skate.

"This is my first season doing flip so I'm hoping to impress some people and, most important, impress myself by doing it," he said. "I landed it well at Skate Detroit and was pleasantly surprised."

The next target in his arsenal is a quad toe loop.

"We're working on improving the technique -- Tom Zakrajsek is helping with that," he said. "The other quads, I have confidence in my ability to do. I just need to pace myself so I don't get too fatigued going into them."

Chen blocks out 'noise' entering season

Nathan Chen, who is about 18 months older than Zhou, combined four different quads with superior skating skills and choreography when he brought home the U.S. and Four Continents titles last season. He's reticent to discuss his music choices -- "I might not make an announcement, I'll just do them" -- but thinks his programs are another step up.

"My short is very contemporary when compared to the classic short I had last season (Le Corsaire)," Chen, 18, said. "Last year I showed I had a balletic base, which was good, and I can evolve off of that.

"Patrick [Chan] has all the jumps and the skating (skills), and if he's capable of doing it, then I think I'm capable of it."

That may mean waiting to add a fifth quad -- the loop -- to his arsenal.

"It would be great, it's something I can work on," he said. "It's something that could come this season, but it's not the main priority. The main priority is being consistent."

Chen added that he's fit and ready for the season, crediting an Olympic Training Center (OTC) physiotherapist who's working with other elite students of his coach, Rafael Arutunian. And he's not letting the media and sponsor demands that come with being an Olympic favorite mess with his head.

"Regardless of whatever else happens, I have to focus on skating," he said. "I've always been able to balance any of the extracurricular (activities) I've done, whether it's hockey or ballet or whatever, so it's nothing necessarily new to me. It's an opportunity I don't want to give away. It's nice to know these companies are supporting me and riding along with the journey."

Brown stays the course

Jason Brown stuck to a plan this summer: show his still-evolving programs at Skate Milwaukee and the Glacier Falls Summer Classic without worrying about jumps. To borrow from the lyrics of his short program, set to Hamilton's "The Room Where It Happens," that's "how the sausage gets made."

For Skate Milwaukee in mid-July, Brown admits he "was definitely going back and forth -- 'should I compete or not?' I can barely make it through with singles.' But I trust my coach, Kori [Ade], and she really wanted me to compete and show the new concepts. It goes back to putting ego and expectations aside. But I'll tell you, I've never been more nervous competing singles."

Brown wanted a Hamilton program ever since the Broadway blockbuster opened. He envisioned a free skate but is more than happy with his short, choreographed by Rohene Ward.

"People who haven't seen the musical could understand and get into it," he said. "It's more a song than a super-fast rap, so you're not always trying to figure out what they're saying. … It brings in (the characters) [Aaron] Burr and [Alexander] Hamilton, it brings in the founding of America, and I was excited by that."

The U.S. bronze medalist, who fought through a stress fracture in his right fibula to finish seventh in the world last season, thinks he's heading into the Olympic season in fine form.

"My quads (toe and salchow) are back," he said. "I definitely feel strong and ready. I don't count my chickens before they're hatched anymore or get too excited. I do feel I have proven over the years I am someone who can get the job done in any situation. Both years I've been to worlds, we've been able to get those three spots. I've performed well in team events. Yes, I've had those weird outlier performances, but as a whole I've proven myself very consistent in my scores."

Rippon rings in milestone campaign

Adam Rippon is celebrating his 10th season on the Grand Prix circuit by adding a new credit to his resume: singer. He will skate his short to his own rendition of Rihanna's "Diamonds," choreographed with Benji Schwimmer and Buttle.

"I wanted to do something no one else has done, so I brought it up to Benji and he introduced me to a producer, Brady Kerr, who I was so lucky to work with," Rippon said. "He was incredible and made me feel so comfortable.

"It shows I'm more than a skater, that I'm trying to put my whole heart and soul into the performance," he added.

The 2016 U.S. champion, who competed at the Orange County FSC Open Championships earlier this month, feels fit after missing the second half of the 2016-17 season with a broken foot.

"I've been training really well and I think that's going to translate to my Grand Prix events," he said. "I have a little extra time this year -- I don't start (on the Grand Prix) until the middle of November (NHK Trophy) -- and I'm going to use that time to my advantage. I had to take four or five months off because I broke my foot, and I actually feel stronger now than before I broke my foot."

Rippon landed quad toe last season but has returned to focusing on the quad lutz, a jump he had in past seasons' programs.

"My left foot is the one I broke, so I've been doing quad lutzes again," he said. "Once my foot is better, I will do both; that's my goal. But my lutz is going well; and I think it will be fine."