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Aaron has eyes set on improbable comeback

Brown second; Kanallakan third

Max Aaron is one of eight U.S. skaters that will compete at the JGP France.
Max Aaron is one of eight U.S. skaters that will compete at the JGP France. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/15/2010) - Max Aaron is a good free skate away from completing a most improbable comeback.

In March of 2008, Aaron, then training in Scottsdale, Ariz., was dealing with back pain, the result of doing competitive figure skating and playing hockey at the same time.

"I knew [my back] hurt, but I didn't say anything because I didn't want to stop skating," said Aaron, who won the junior men's short program Friday morning. "I put it off, and it got worse and worse and worse to the point where I couldn't walk."

Aaron had X-rays done, and they revealed he had a fractured back, an injury that kept him off the ice for 6-7 months.

Perhaps prematurely, he returned to the ice at the 2009 Midwestern Sectional Figure Skating Championships, throwing together a program in a week's time, and finished eighth.

He's back to full strength now, and it showed Friday. Skating to music from the Once Upon in Mexico soundtrack, Aaron landed a triple Axel, triple Lutz-double toe and triple flip en route to a segment score of 62.17, just ahead of Jason Brown (62.10) and Austin Kanallakan (61.90).

Aaron, who placed 13th in junior men in 2008, moved from Arizona to Colorado Springs last August, and he's taken a real liking to his new training environment, noting that he's improved his jumping technique, ice presence and skating skills under his coaching team of Tom Zakrajsek, Becky Calvin and Tom Dickson.

"I've really worked on stretching and strengthening [my back] to make sure it wouldn't happen again," Aaron said. "It's even stronger than it was before."

Lurking just behind Aaron is perennial crowd favorite Brown. He had the second part of his triple Lutz-triple toe downgraded in his "Hey Pachuco" program but landed a clean triple flip and double Axel, and his program components score (28.90) was highest in the competition.

At just 15, Brown is a natural showman.

"I've always liked performing," said Brown, who acted in plays all through middle school. "I've been watching Ryan Bradley for a long time; he's my biggest role model. Rohene Ward skates at our rink, and he's a real performer, too.

Brown had planned on skating novice again this year after placing third at that level last season, but he and coach Kori Ade decided he was ready to move up to junior.

"It's a whole 'nother level," Brown said. "Everyone's so much bigger and stronger, and they all have the jumps and the spins."

Kanallakan is competing at the U.S. Championships as a junior for the fifth time. His best showing was a third-place finish in 2007, a placement he's at least looking to match this time around.

"I normally bomb in the short," Kanallakan said. "This was a good stepping stone for me."

Skating to "Leyenda" performed by Vanessa Mae, Kanallakan opened his program by stepping out of the landing on his triple Axel, but he regrouped to do a triple Lutz-triple toe (good for 10.29 points, the most of any element in the competition) and a triple flip.

Kanallakan hurt his foot while practicing triple Axels about a month ago and had to stay off the ice for a few weeks. He only returned to skating a week before this competition.

The injury forced him to make some changes to his program.

"I had more transitions where I used my right foot, and I had to take them out," he said. "The triple flip and triple Lutz are really hard for me, too."

Reigning U.S. novice champ Joshua Farris is fourth with 58.24 points.