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Zahradnicek edges Aaron in junior men's short

Stage set for exciting junior men's free skate

Alexander Zahradnicek fought off tough competition to win the junior men's short program.
Alexander Zahradnicek fought off tough competition to win the junior men's short program. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2011) - The stage is set for an exciting junior men's free skate Tuesday night with four competitors earning well over 60 points for their efforts. Alexander Zahradnicek, who represents the Skating Club of Wilmington, owns a slight lead over the Broadmoor Skating Club's Max Aaron, hometown boy Alexander Aiken and Steven Evans from Dallas.

Zahradnicek continues a long season that started with the Junior Grand Prix in Austria last fall. The 19-year-old from Suwanee, Ga., had to overcome a knee injury to get back on track after his JGP assignment -- the fat pad in his knee curled under his knee cap and required rest to heal. However, he has proven he's in strong form following first place finishes at both the South Atlantic Regional and the Eastern Sectional and his performance Sunday that earned 63.81 points.

"I'm really proud of my hard work this season, especially after I considered withdrawing before the free skate in Austria," he said. "I like that I came out here and didn't feel nervous and performed my best."

The "Libertango" short program featured a triple flip-triple toe that netted 10.60 points, including a grade of execution of 1.20. The combination was the first of seven elements to earn positive GOEs.

Like Zahradnicek, Aaron, the reigning U.S. junior bronze medalist, has had to maintain focus in an extended season. His has included two medals in the Junior Grand Prix Series, a trip to the Junior Grand Prix Final and a first-place finish at the Southwestern Regional.

"I have been really focused on my training all season," he said. "I trust my training and commit to my programs."

Aaron rebounded from a hiccup on his program-opening triple Axel that saw him place two hands on the ice upon landing. En route to 62.95 points, he nailed a triple Lutz-triple toe combination (11.20 points) and a pair of Level 4 spins.

Aiken, who trains under former Olympian Paul Wylie -- the 2011 U.S. Championships honorary chairman -- near Charlotte, N.C., was so excited about the Pittsburgh Steelers sealing a trip to Super Bowl XLV that he was hardly interested in commenting on his program.

The 20-year-old, decked out in head-to-toe yellow and black, said the hometown crowd helped propel him to 61.78 points. He kicked off the junior men's competition and maintained a top spot as 12 more skaters took the ice.

"The home crowd was amazing, so fun," he said, as he checked the ESPN app on his iPhone and headed to the draw. As for the Steelers Super Bowl berth?

"I'm so excited, I might pee my pants."