Maxwell takes slim lead in junior ladies

Triple-triple combo helps skater make the grade

Angela Maxwell leads the junior ladies at U.S. Championships.
Angela Maxwell leads the junior ladies at U.S. Championships. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/20/2008) - For Angela Maxwell (Dallas FSC), happiness is landing her triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination at the U.S. Championships.

"I did it, I kept everything together," the 15 year-old Texan said, grinning from ear to ear.

"I'm very excited about skating a clean program. I've definitely done a little bit better at each competition this year. I'm just trying to keep my nerves under control and get stronger every time out."

The 2007 novice champion took first place in the junior ladies' short program event, earning 54.91 points and a .32 lead entering the free skate.

Maxwell's coach, Natalia Mishkutenok, knows a thing or two keeping your nerves under control.

The Russian-born Mishkutenok, who has lived in the U.S. for 13 years, won the 1992 Olympic gold medal with partner Artur Dimitriev. At the 1994 Olympics, she and Dimitriev took home silver after overcoming a serious practice fall and being "hypnotized" by their coach, the revered Tamara Moskvina.

"I think that was just a little trick Tamara used to calm us down and try to scare the competition," Mishkutenok remembered with a smile.

"With Angela, we just do a lot of run-throughs. When she started working with me this summer, she didn't have all of her jumps, so we worked on that first. Now, we're also concentrating on the in-between moves."

The athletic Maxwell also hit a strong double Axel and solid triple loop in her short program to "Fever" and "Take Five." The skater hopes to add a new jump, the triple flip, to her free skate, which is set to music from the "Finding Nemo" soundtrack.

"At least, I'm planning to do one," she said.

"No, you will do one," interjected Mishkutenok. "That's what Tamara would have said to me. I'm trying to pass on all of my own experiences to my students."

Brittney Rizo (SC of Boston) took second place with a solid skate to "The Giving" that also included a triple toe-triple toe.

The Boston-area skater, who trains under Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, topped off her program with a triple loop and a spread eagle into a solid double Axel, as well as a lovely level-four spiral sequence featuring a difficult change of edge from left forward outside, to inside, to back outside.

"I landed my triple-triple, and I just thought, 'Oh, thank God!'" Rizo, who placed 12th at junior ladies last season, said.

"It was a huge relief, but I knew I wasn't home free. I still had my double Axel coming up, so I had to stay focused."

Rizo shares her coaches with five other skaters who are competing at these U.S. Championships, all in different events. They include World junior men's champ Stephen Carriere and Eastern Sectionals winner Katrina Hacker, among others.

"I see Britney skate like that in practice every day," Mitchell said. "She got off the ice and I said to her, 'That was the program we geared to all year.' Usually I pick on a few things, but not this time."

Rizo said training with Mitchell and Johansson's other students is "the best part about skating in Boston. We all get along so well, it's crazy. If you're having a bad day, someone is always there to pick you up."

Rizo enters the free skate with 54.59 points.

Alexe Gilles of Colorado Springs (Broadmoor SC) sits third after a clean, inspired skate to Rene Dupere's "Windspirits" that included an opening triple Lutz-double toe loop (worth 7.59 points), a triple loop and a fine double Axel. The 16 year-old also shone in her Level 4 spiral sequence and fast, well-centered closing combination spin. Her sparkling effort earned 52.63 points.

Skating is a family affair for Alexe; her twin, Piper, competes in junior ice dance with Timothy McKernan, and older brother Todd is entered in the senior ice dance event with his partner, Jane Summersett.

"I think the first one to scream out after my program was my brother," Alexe said. "All of us think and talk skating at the rink all day, until it's time to go home. Then we eat, do some homework and go to bed."

Gilles, who placed fifth in this event last season, competed on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this fall and qualified for the Final, where she placed sixth.

"The Junior Grand Prix events weren't too different from Nationals; the flights there and back were just longer," Gilles said. "There are so many good skaters wherever you go. Competing internationally has helped me learn how to focus better and adapt to different situations."

Victoria Rackhohn, a powerful jumper with a strong, sure style, placed fourth with 49.50 points. Kristine Musademba was fifth with 49.10.