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Focus and passion lead Vrdoljak to gold

Logan Bye laces up his skates. He finished 10th in the juvenile boys final.
Logan Bye laces up his skates. He finished 10th in the juvenile boys final. (Jo Ann Schneider-Farris)

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By Kathleen Hurley, special to icenetwork.com
(12/14/2008) - Nicholas Vrdoljak (Northern Ice SC) thrives on competition. The young skater cites it as his favorite aspect of the sport, and it certainly seems to hold true, considering that he achieved a personal-best score of 53.04 to win the juvenile boys gold medal at the 2009 U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships.

While Vrdoljak pulled away from the field, the competition for second and third was a lot tougher. Spencer Howe (Los Angeles FSC) took silver with a 50.76-point program, just in front of third-place finisher Alex Benoit (Skokie Valley SC), who finished with 50.41. In fourth place was James Schetelich (Upper Mountain Skating Association) with a score of 46.84.

Vrdoljak skated to music from The Mask of Zorro, a character he was proud to portray. The 12-year-old, who has only been skating competitively for three years, had a packed program, including three double-double combinations, three other double jumps and a Level 3 combination spin to take the gold.

"I just wanted to get in the top five," said Vrdoljak. "I wanted to get first too, but I just tried my best, and it was a great experience for me."

In his first trip to nationals, Spencer Howe proved that stepping up his training program over the past year was well worth it.

After starting home schooling this year, he spends most of his time training, often traveling to work with other coaches. But the stricter regiment allowed Howe to reach his season goal of a 50-point score. He completed a double Axel-single toe loop-single loop sequence, as well as two double-double combinations.

"I feel pretty good, because I didn't place third or fourth. I placed second," said Howe. "Hopefully next year I can place again, and maybe even take first."

For Benoit, who is good friends with Vrdoljak, it was a combination of drive and enthusiasm in his program that got him onto the podium.

He completed a double Salchow-double toe combination and a double Axel-single toe loop combination while skating to music from Dances with Wolves, a film he is very enthusiastic about.

After failing to qualify for the final round of juvenile boys last year, Benoit says he trained harder to be sure he would make it this year.

"I've gotten more jumps and have been working more and more to get new programs in," said Benoit.

It seems his plan worked.