Keiser jumps her way to novice title

Cain picks up second medal of Championships

The novice ladies medalists at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The novice ladies medalists at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (Paul Harvath)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/19/2010) - It's impressive that 12-year-old Leah Keiser hit five triples in her free skate en route to winning the novice ladies' title.

What's even more impressive is that she perfected all of those triples -- including the Salchow, Lutz and flip -- within the last six months or so.

"I started working on the jumps the beginning of last year, and just tried to improve one jump before each competition," Keiser said.

"She came to me in June [of 2009], and was just started to really focus on the triple Salchow, and also her double Axel," Keiser's coach, Peter Oppegard, said.

"Her growth in one year has been amazing. My job became to pull back on the reigns a little bit and keep her moving along at a healthy pace that was not too aggressive for her body."

Skating to Bizet's Carmen, Keiser opened with a triple Salchow, double toe combination, followed by a triple Lutz, double toe and three more triples. Both her layback and camel combination spin rated Level 4, and she won the free with 92.07 points. She finished with 136.66 overall.

Keiser comes from an athletic family: her half-brother Thomas is an All-American on Stanford University's football team, and another half-brother won a crew scholarship to college. Her half-sister plays tennis, and her younger sister Emily is an intermediate ladies competitor.

Figure skating is already the second sport Leah has tackled.

"When I was really young, I used to do gymnastics," she said. "I was always working at stretching, and I think that makes all the spins and spirals I do a lot easier."

One medal wasn't enough for Ashley Cain.

The newly crowned novice pairs champion took silver with a stylish program to music from the Ratatouille soundtrack that included two triple Salchows, one in combination, and a triple loop. She placed second in the free and won silver with 133.95 points.

"I'm happy, because that's the way I've been practicing," Cain, 14, said. "I put it all out there."

What's more impressive, she did it on little sleep. With the novice pair's awards ceremony last night, Cain and her coaches (and parents) Peter and Darlene didn't get back to their hotel until just after midnight.

"We had to leave our hotel by 6:30 a.m. to make this morning's warm-up, so I asked Ashley, 'Do you want to skip practice and sleep, or skate?' Darlene said. "She said, 'I'm ready to skate.'"

Peter added that their goal all season was two medals at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"Ashley was able to handle the training very well and the competitive schedule very well," he said. "That put us at ease. We made sure she had her rest time and time away from the rink, and limited the number of jumps she did everyday."

Ashley's goal next season is to qualify for the U.S. Championships in the junior division in both disciplines.

Katarina Kulgeyko grabbed the bronze medal with a solid program to selections from The Addams Family soundtrack that featured a gorgeous layback spin to the Biellmann position, as well as two strong triple Salchows and a triple toe.

"My jumps went great, except of course for the popped [single] flip," Kulgeyko, 13, said. "I was surprised at how competitive this event was. The top five girls were all really strong."

Gracie Gold moved up from sixth place after the short to place fourth with 123.61 points.