Hicks takes gold in record-breaking fashion

Dinh pulls up to silver; Kulgeyko takes bronze

Courtney Hicks had no trouble walking away with the gold, amassing a total score of 173.22 points.
Courtney Hicks had no trouble walking away with the gold, amassing a total score of 173.22 points. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Mickey Brown, special to
(01/27/2011) - Courtney Hicks didn't just win the junior title at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C., Wednesday night -- she did it in record-breaking fashion.

Hicks posted a score of 112.38 for her free skate, giving her 173.22 points overall -- both records for a junior lady at a U.S. qualifying competition -- to run away from the field, winning by almost 20 points.

The marks Hicks surpassed -- 108.73 and 171.87, respectively -- were both set by Agnes Zawadzki at last year's U.S. Championships, and Hicks' margin of victory was similar to that of Zawadzki -- 19.23 to 20.82.

It was, simply put, a dominating performance.

"It's really awesome," Hicks said. "I've been trying for a long time to get first place at nationals. It's really nice to get what I've been working for."

Just as in the short, Hicks was the only competitor to so much as attempt a triple-triple combination, opening her "Malaguena" program with a triple flip-triple toe combo, for which she earned a +1 Grade of Execution. Four more clean triples (two in combination) and three Level 4 spins followed for Hicks, the only skater in the event to pull off the latter feat. Her only major misstep was a fall on her last jump element, her triple Lutz.

"I got really focused after last year (when she placed fifth in novice) on what I wanted to do," Hicks said. "I worked harder on concentrating more and doing clean programs and skating more consistently."

While Hicks wanted to focus on the positive aspects of her program, her coach didn't want her to forget the one negative. After Hicks explained how exciting it was to do the triple-triple clean and land her Lutz (as part of a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop), John Nicks, standing off to the side, coughed and interjected, "However..."

That prompted Hicks to snap to attention and immediately correct herself.

"Oh, yeah. Unfortunately, I fell on my last jump."

Nicks' list of pupils includes some heavyweights in the sport -- from Peggy Fleming to Kristi Yamaguchi to Sasha Cohen -- so his words of praise for Hicks ring anything but hollow.

"She has remarkable attributes. She can warm up in half the time of any other skater I've ever taught. She's fearless; there's no fear there at all," Nicks said. "When you put those two things together, you've got a remarkable athlete."

Silver medalist Lauren Dinh got off to a shaky start in her "Danse Macabre" program, falling on her first jump element, a triple loop. She pulled herself together after that, landing five clean triples (two in combination) en route to a second-place segment score of 101.48.

"I made one mistake at the beginning, and I tried to not let it affect the rest of the program, because everything counts," Dinh said. "I told myself to let it go, that there was more to do, more to accomplish."

Katarina Kulgeyko extended her streak of medals at a U.S. championship competition to three with a bronze in Greensboro. (She won intermediate gold in 2009 and novice bronze last season.).

"There's no secret -- only determination and hard work and drive to keep being on top," she said when asked what the secret is to her podium finishes. "I'm really happy I've made it to nationals every year. I'm getting more and more experienced, and getting better and better, and hopefully I'll be my best pretty soon."

By earning the pewter, McKinzie Daniels found her way onto a U.S. podium for the first time in her career. Her previous best finish was eighth in intermediate in 2008.

She nailed her opening double Axel-triple toe combination in her Spartacus free skate but then fell on her triple Lutz.

"I'm glad I didn't give up on the rest of the program, because I've done that in the past." Daniels said. "I'm stronger this year about making up for a mistake."