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Mahbanoozadeh 'selfishly' skating for just himself

Reigning U.S. pewter medalist breaking out quad toe in short and free in Salt Lake City

Armin Mahbanoozadeh believes he has what it takes to be national champion.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh believes he has what it takes to be national champion. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/13/2012) - Armin Mahbanoozadeh is on a mission, and it all starts in Salt Lake City this week.

After the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the 21-year-old Virginia native was uncertain about his future. Although he finished a career-best fourth, he was passed over for the 2012 Four Continents Championships in favor of Ricky Dornbush, who had a more extensive international record. Lacking ISU ranking points, Mahbanoozadeh didn't gain a Grand Prix invite this fall.

"I had a very difficult choice, whether I wanted to continue skating or not," he said. "It pretty much came down to, I've got this amazing opportunity to train in Colorado Springs, to live very close to the Olympic Training Center and make use of all of that. I'm privileged that, financially, skating is not putting that much pressure on my family.

"I'm selfishly skating for just me this year, and I want to be the best, because I think I can be. I want to win nationals this year."

To do that, Mahbanoozadeh must add a consistent quadruple jump to his arsenal, and he and coach Christy Krall made the quad toe loop a top priority this summer.

"We took a look at my technique and decided that it wasn't consistent enough," he said. "We went back to the timing and made some pretty big changes. After a couple of weeks, it really started clicking, and I'm glad that it's much more consistent.

"It will be, of course, in both my short and long programs. I think two toes in the long by nationals is the goal."

Krall, who helped Patrick Chan gain a consistent quad and coached the Canadian to two world titles, put her expertise with the video training tool Dartfish -- as well as her patented blend of positivity and enthusiasm -- to work on Mahbanoozadeh.

"Armin is [leaving] no stone unturned," Krall said. "This boy is going to get the 'wow' factor in. I told him, 'There is no greater time in your life to do something you love, and do it passionately.'

Mahbanoozadeh is making progress: He landed the quad toe in both his short program and free skate at the Vail Invitational in July.

"Vail is almost 9,000 feet in elevation, higher than [Colorado Springs]," he said. "We took out a lot of other jumps. The main goal there was to land the quad in the short and long, and to land all of the triple Axels. The quads had +1 GOEs (grades of execution) across the [judging] panel, so I was really happy."

A classically trained pianist, Mahbanoozadeh chooses his music with care, and this season is no exception. His new free skate, choreographed with Catarina Lindgren, is set to music from the British science fiction TV series Dr. Who.

"I wanted a character piece this year," he said. "I talked with Catarina, and we wanted it to be kind of an epic but also have a mischievous aspect to it. I think Dr. Who fits the bill quite well.

Mahbanoozadeh is keeping his "Kashmir" short from last season, with some modifications.

"The program is pretty much completely changed," he said. "We added the quad and realized the [placement of] triple Axel had to change. The footwork we pretty much started from scratch."

While Mahbanoozadeh hopes to lay down solid programs in Salt Lake City, he is mostly focused on one thing.

"I really want to make a statement with the quads again," he said. "I want everyone to see how consistent I've become. I know that's really important for the U.S., and I want to show I'm a viable candidate for worlds and Olympics."

"We're doing it for all of the right reasons this year," Krall said. "Who gets to go out do something they love day in and day out? I told Armin this is one of the best experiences for any human being to have. He's up and ramped, and I think this guy is going to surprise the world this year."

The top-ranked U.S. man competing in Salt Lake City, Ross Miner also wants to show off a quad, in his case the Salchow. The U.S. bronze medalist landed the jump at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp last month.

"It's planned in both the short and long," said Peter Johansson, who coaches the Boston-based skater with Mark Mitchell. "It's a major step for any skater when you finally put [quads] in your program. It's one thing to be doing them outside [the program], but to do them in context with all of the other elements is really challenging for anyone."

Miner, who will compete at Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy this fall, is using this event to get more mileage out of two new programs, a short to "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini" and a free to music from the 1935 Errol Flynn movie Captain Blood.

"We asked to get a senior 'B' before the Grand Prix so Ross would have a chance to have one major competition under his belt," Johansson said. "We asked the last couple of years as well, but with all the boys in the country, there were limited slots. This year we were able to get one, and I hope he is able to use it to his advantage to prepare for the Grand Prix."

Miner, who has worked with choreographer Jamie Isley for many years, changed things up this season by turning to Lindgren and Tom Dickson for his programs.

"It's been good for him to work with different choreographers," Johansson said. "Obviously, it's still early in the season, and these programs are being tweaked and refined as you go on."

Max Aaron, eighth at the 2012 U.S. Championships, comes armed with his quad Salchow and a short to Tron, and a free to music from West Side Story.

Tim Dolensky, the 2012 U.S. junior silver medalist, makes his senior debut in Salt Lake City. On Wednesday he tweeted, "My goal is to skate two good programs and to show people that I have made the jump to senior successfully."

The men's field also features Canadian bronze medalist Jeremy Ten and Philippine champion Christopher Caluza.


Gold, Zawadzki head up ladies field

Gracie Gold is excited to step up to the senior circuit full time and show off two new programs, both choreographed by Scott Brown.

Her short is to Hernando's Hideaway, while her free is to the Life is Beautiful soundtrack.

"[The short] is a mix of three different [arrangements]: the classic Tango, then more of a Mambo and back to classical," the 16-year-old said. "We wanted to do a Tango this year, and it's just sassy; it's a fun program.

"We're sort of treating [my free] more as a love story. Although there is heartache, [there is also] the triumph of the human spirit, so it has a positive twist to it."

As always, the U.S. junior champion plans some challenging elements: a "Rippon" triple Lutz (both arms overhead) in the short; triple flip-half loop-triple Salchow combination in the free; and triple Lutz-triple toe in both programs.

Gold, whose primary coach is Alexander Ouriashev, also hopes to show greater maturity on the ice, and to that end spent time training with Marina Zoueva's ice dance group in Canton this summer.

"One of the best qualities ice dancers bring is their maturity on the ice, and training with them was a good experience," she said. "I worked with Oleg Epstein, who I've worked with before but never when he's in his ice dance mode. I really think it helped."

For U.S. bronze medalist Agnes Zawadzki -- whose first Grand Prix event, the NHK Trophy, isn't until the end of November -- this week is another step to fully recovering her jumps and confidence after a sprained sacroiliac joint limited her training for part of the summer.

"[The injury] rejuvenated me. It got me more motivated when I got back on the ice," said Zawadzki, who trains under Krall in Colorado Springs and also works with David Santee. "For the first week, it was nice to have a break, and then I was like, 'I need to get back.' "

For now, Zawadzki will stick to familiar elements, including a triple toe-triple toe and triple Lutz in her Sex and the City 2 short, choreographed by David Wilson.

"I was working on triple Lutz-triple toe before I hurt my back, and I'm planning on having that Lutz-toe on the Grand Prix circuit," she said. "For Salt Lake, I'm trying to get my [ISU ranking and qualifying score] points more than anything. I have a couple of good months to train that mentally and physically."

Canadian champion Amélie Lacoste and Estonian champion Elena Glebova, who landed a triple toe-triple toe and triple Lutz in her short at last month's Moran Memorial, headline the international field in Salt Lake City.