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Maturity propels Edmunds into junior ladies lead

Local favorite Bell slides into second; Novice champ of 2012 Chen takes third

Polina Edmunds amassed 58.17 points to claim the junior ladies lead in Omaha, Neb.
Polina Edmunds amassed 58.17 points to claim the junior ladies lead in Omaha, Neb. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2013) - Polina Edmunds is mature, experienced and taking ownership of her skating. And she's still only 14.

Last season, the blonde San Jose charmer was in medal position after her short program at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, only to take herself out of contention with a subpar free skate. Her sixth-place finish likely cost her a Junior Grand Prix berth.

That disappointment -- plus a dash of added maturity -- was a blessing well-disguised.

"Last year, I wasn't really well trained. I was slacking off the whole season," Edmunds said. "I just went into the short and did really well, and that was probably the first clean short I did last season in competition.

"This year, I feel a lot better trained. I learned from the experience. I kind of bombed my long last year. Now, I'm really focused. I've just worked so much harder."

Edmunds, the final skater of the event, opened her Russian folk song short with a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, the only clean triple-triple of the evening. Although her triple flip was under-rotated, sprightly steps and three Level 4 spins more than compensated, and she took the lead at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with 58.17 points.

"I think this year more than ever, Polina really is ready," the skater's coach, David Glynn, said. "She's trained well, she's trained appropriately, she's really hungry and she wants this. She's taken ownership of her skating and she's ready to step out and be among the world's best.

"She is doing the elements that the best girls in the world are doing, and the triple Lutz-triple toe is one of them. She hit it at sectionals and she hit yet again tonight."

With a slim 1.54-point lead heading into Wednesday night's free skate, Edmunds can't afford to rest on any laurels. She plans to go for broke in her free skate with two triple-triple combinations.

"I've been working on my triple-triples all year and a little bit last year, too," she said. "They feel really consistent now. I'm not really focused on getting on the podium, or getting first, second or third. I'm focused on doing two great programs and just doing my best and showing the judges what I can do."

Edmunds will need to skate her best to fend off Mariah Bell, who floated through a light and charming short to a Scottish melody, choreographed by Cindy Stuart. She hit a triple Lutz-double toe, triple flip and double Axel out of a spiral, and steps along the way. Her only noticeable error was a shaky flying camel spin, and she earned 56.63 points.

Bell -- whose older sister, Morgan, will compete in the senior ladies event -- brought her own cheering section, a gang of friends and relatives from nearby Council Bluffs, the town where her parents set up housekeeping when they married.

"It's definitely exciting when you have a lot of fans, and most of them are from here in Omaha," the 16-year-old said. "Usually, they don't get to attend [skating events] because it's so far away, but this year they can. It's exciting when that much family gets to come and you can see everyone."

Her music, "I'm a Doun for Lack of Johnnie," performed by Vanessa Mae, also has special meaning.

"My older sister had it when she was novice, and Morgan is such a powerful skater," Mariah said. "That's something I admire about her, so I wanted to kind of put that into my skating. I don't think last year I was as powerful in my skating."

Cindy Sullivan, who trains Bell in Westminster, Colo., thinks Mariah has matured by leaps and bounds over last season, when she placed fifth in junior ladies.

"She has been practicing very well, and she has prepared herself for this," Sullivan said. "From the moment she got to Omaha, she's been saying, 'I just love this.' She's very passionate about her music choice. She wanted something calmer this year that didn't make her get too hyped up, and this is a good fit."

Karen Chen, the 2012 novice champion, had a solid skate to music from House of Flying Daggers, including the finest double Axel and spins of the evening. She attempted a triple Lutz-triple loop combination, but the second jump was downgraded, and she also lost points on her triple flip. Still, she sits third with 54.34 points.

Good as it was, the 13-year-old is far from satisfied.

"On two of my jumps, I was kind of to the left, so I didn't land them properly, and I didn't get full credit for them," Chen said.

"I want to be perfect all of the time, but it's very hard to get that. I always think I have to do everything perfectly and if I don't, I just feel bad."

Chen has struggled a bit with injuries, including an injury to her right hip that kept her off the ice for several weeks this summer and limited the training of her triple-triple combination.

"I feel like I did improve some from last year, and I have been trying my triple-triple, trying to get it [fully] around, but it's not quite there yet," she said. "Junior is a little bit tougher than I expected."

Chen's coaches, Sherri Krahne-Thomas and Gilley Nicholson, who train the skater in Belmont, Calif., try to temper the skater's perfectionism.

"You definitely have to reel her in," Krahne-Thomas said. "She is very self-critical and very determined, and she will just do one [jump] after the other. If the warm-up here could have been 20 minutes long, she would have been the last one off the ice."

"This is the best she has looked all season," Nicholson said. "She's peaking at the right time. We got a late start and we're very proud of her for pushing through."

Reporter's Notes: Bell made her international debut in April 2012 at the Gardena Spring Trophy in Italy, winning the silver medal. There, she posted a technical score that would qualify her for entry to the 2013 Junior World Figure Skating Championships ... This is the third consecutive U.S. championships the Bell sisters, Morgan and Mariah, have competed at together ... Barbie Long, who won the 2012 Gardena Spring Trophy, fell on a triple flip in her short and sits fourth with 51.05 points.