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Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook Day 2: Vincent Zhou’s under-rotation thoughts; catching up with Alysa Liu

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Under-rotation calls – the dreaded “<” from technical panels – give skaters and their coaches fits. They’ve certainly been on Vincent Zhou’s mind this season.

“Every session, every day, every minute,” a smiling Zhou said at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships on Thursday, when asked if he’s been working to avoid them.

Quick primer: quadruple jumps have four rotations; triple Axels, three and a half. If the final rotation is a quarter-turn or more short, it is reduced to 70 percent of its base value and saddled with a < on the judging sheet. Almost every skater in the world has lost points by way under rotations this season.

Zhou’s fixation paid off: his clean program, with jumps including a quadruple lutz-triple toe loop combination, quad Salchow and triple Axel, leads the Anaheim, Calif. event with 100.18 points heading into Saturday’s free skate.

“I was happy with how I skated, not really much more to say,” Zhou said, before flipping back to self-critical mode.

“I just felt satisfied with my performance, my jumps, almost everything except for the flying camel and triple Axel,” he added. “Those could have been better.”

Under rotations cost the U.S. silver medalist some points at Skate America and NHK Trophy. They followed him to the Tallinn Trophy in Estonia in late November and he had a few at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Mich. last month.

But as Zhou said before the U.S. Championships, “Honestly, I know that people now have an eagle eye on my jump landings, but that doesn’t really bother me too much.”

Philosophical and determined – and avoiding social media chatter on the topic – the 18-year-old just wants to fix things.

“There’s not really one thing I can specifically state helps,” Zhou said. “It’s just been focusing on improving it. I believe regardless of what it is, if you work on it over time, it will get better. There’s no magical correction, it’s thinking about ways to improve it.”

Zhou’s longtime coach, Tammy Gambill, gets a bit more specific.

“A lot of tightness, technique tweaks, pattern tweaks,” said Gambill, who trains Zhou in Colorado Springs alongside Tom Zakrajsek and Christy Krall. “Just trying to keep things tighter in the air. It’s a process, going back to singles, doubles, triples. We’re working on the basics of the landings, making them better than they have been.”

Zhou isn’t out of the woods (or <’s) yet. He’s less than three points ahead of South Korea’s Junhwan Cha. China’s Jin Boyang and Japan’s Shoma Uno, who sit third and fourth respectively, made mistakes in their short programs but have the ability to make up a lot of ground.

But those back-to-basics training sessions in Colorado Springs aren’t just producing higher jumps; they’re producing confidence.

“I’ve been I thinking, it’s just been the more I train like this, the more good muscle memory you have and the more confident you become,” Zhou said. “I started realizing I’m actually able to put out good performances. I knew I was able to do this.”

Waiting is not so hard for Liu

If Alysa Liu feels overwhelmed by all of the attention she’s receiving since winning the U.S. title in Detroit last month, she sure isn’t showing it.

“I never thought I would be on TODAY, or Jimmy Fallon’s show,” she said at Anaheim’s Honda Center on Thursday. “It’s really fun. They’re all really nice.”

The triple Axel-wielding 13-year-old’s biggest preoccupations at the moment include her new dog, a terrier mix; learning Mandarin Chinese; and visiting Disneyland next weekend, where she plans to ride the Guardians of Galaxy rollercoaster.

“I also spend time with my friends. I do still get to do what normal teens do,” Liu, a home-schooled ninth grader, said.

“I don’t get to go to normal school. I don’t get to eat junk a lot, maybe once in a while,” she added. “I also don’t get to have sleepovers every single day like some people do, but not too bad. Mainly it’s because I have to train and travel so much.”

Liu won’t be traveling to Japan for the upcoming world championships in March. Skaters must have turned 15 by July 1 of the preceding year to be eligible for senior ISU competitions. Born Aug. 8, 2005, Liu won’t be eligible to enter them until the 2021-22 season; she is too young, even, for the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. She will be eligible for Junior Worlds next season.

“Time goes by fast,” she shrugged.

The waiting doesn’t seem hard for Liu, who traveled from her home in the Bay area to Anaheim to learn and observe. She performed her competitive short program, set to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” in the event’s opening ceremony and watched U.S. teammates Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell place first and third, respectively, in the short program.

“It’s really fun to watch,” she said, adding, “(Tennell and Bell) skated so well. I’m so happy for them.”

With no big competitions in the offing until she debuts on the Junior Grand Prix next season, Liu has time practice new things on the ice. The primary goal, said both the skater and her coach, Laura Lipetsky, is to improve her skating skills. Learning quads, particularly Lutz and Salchow, is also on the menu.

“I wish to get some quads before I compete next season, but mainly I want to improve everything,” she said. “I haven’t worked on (quads) in a while because I was focusing on triple Axel.”

“I tried a quad (Lutz) at regionals, and I fell,” she added. “Not so great. It was under (rotated). I’m going to start working on it soon again.”

Another young teenager, Russia’s Alexandra Trusova, has landed quad Lutz and toe loop in competition. Trusova, along with teammates Alena Kanysheva and Alena Kostornaia, took all three medals at the Junior Grand Prix Final this season.

“(The Russians) are more my inspiration right now, I can’t compete against them so I’m really looking up to them,” Liu said. “Hopefully I get to compete against them at junior worlds (next season).”

There are no guarantees. Other recent prodigies, including Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia, have made big splashes on the international scene only to retire from competition while still teenagers. It’s hard to predict whether young skaters will continue to maintain and grow skills as they move into adulthood.

For now, though, neither Liu nor Lipetsky is worried.

“We’re taking it one day at a time, trying to work hard and improve the technique,” Lipetsky said. “(She is) trying to become a better skater.”

MORE: How to watch Four Continents

As a reminder, you can watch Four Continents and the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Hubbell, Donohue defend Skate America title to extend U.S. dance legacy

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Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue extended the U.S.’ ice dance legacy Saturday evening at Skate America in Las Vegas, winning their second straight title at the event.

Hubbell and Donohue, two-time and reigning national champions, performed their free dance to selections from “A Star is Born,” scoring 124.58 points, for a total score of 209.55 points. It was their season debut and the duo are slated to compete next weekend at Skate Canada to lock up a spot in December’s prestigious Grand Prix Final.

“We were happy to put it out for the first time and looking forward to getting a lot of feedback,” Hubbell said afterward through U.S. Figure Skating. “There were good things and not so good things, and we feel like we can make a lot of progress for next week. There was a nice crowd reaction and there was a good connection between the two of us and that’s a great place to start.”

“I’m hoping to have two working lungs by Skate Canada,” added Donohue, who revealed he has bronchitis.

U.S. ice dance teams have now won 15 of the last 17 Skate America titles, going back to 2003.

Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who sat fourth behind Hubbell and Donohue at the 2019 World Championships, finished runner-up by a 2.98-point margin. Their free dance to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” won the phase with 124.66 points, but their overall score of 206.57 landed them in second place.

Canada’s Laurence Fornier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen claimed the bronze medal. Their free dance tallied 118.36 points and they earned an overall score of 197.53 points. Until January 2018, the team represented Denmark. This Skate America bronze is their first-ever Grand Prix medal.

Skate America results are here.

The other American teams in the field finished sixth and seventh. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko earned 180.55 total points, while Caroline Green and Michael Parsons scored 173.03. Green and Parsons were skating in their Grand Prix debut as a new team this season. Green formerly danced with her brother and Parsons was previously partnered with his sister.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised at how well she has adapted to senior,” Parsons said of Green, who last year competed on the junior level. “She has done really well and I couldn’t be happier.”

“I think that it is a challenge that I am ready for,” Green said of the change. “I’m happy to see that. I think this competition sort of solidified in myself that I’m capable of competing at the senior level. It was definitely a little confidence boost there.”

U.S. ice dance wins at Skate America:

  • 2003: Tanith White and Ben Agosto
  • 2004: White/Agosto
  • 2005: White/Agosto
  • 2007: White/Agosto
  • 2009: White/Agosto
  • 2010: Meryl Davis and Charlie White
  • 2011: Davis/White
  • 2012: Davis/White
  • 2013: Davis/White
  • 2014: Madison Chock and Evan Bates
  • 2015: Chock/Bates
  • 2016: Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
  • 2017: Shibutani/Shibutani
  • 2018: Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue
  • 2019: Hubbell and Donohue

Skate America continues later Saturday evening with the ladies’ free skate.

MORE: How to watch Skate America | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown atop men’s field 

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Nathan Chen wins third Skate America title, Jason Brown joins podium with silver

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Nathan Chen won his third consecutive Skate America title on Saturday in Las Vegas, bringing down the house as the last skater, performing to the soundtrack from “Rocketman.”

His free skate — which included a hip hop dance break — scored 196.38 points. His total score, 299.09 points, out-distanced silver medalist Jason Brown by 44 points, the largest-ever margin of victory in the men’s field at the event. The Yale sophomore told media earlier in the week that his free skate would likely include three quadruple jumps, and that’s what he executed.

“I’m pretty happy with the performance today,” Chen said through U.S. Figure Skating. “Again, this is the first Grand Prix of the season — the first competition of the season since Worlds — so it was nice to be able to put out both programs. I’m pretty happy with the score. There are still a lot of things to improve on, but overall it’s a good starting point.”

Chen, the two-time and reigning world champion, has not lost a Grand Prix event since he earned a silver medal at the 2016 Grand Prix Final.

Skate America results are here.

Brown originally planned to debut his emotionally poignant “Schindler’s List” free skate at a competition earlier this season in Germany, but his plans were derailed when he was in a car accident and suffered a concussion over the summer. Instead, he showed this year’s free skate for the first time at Skate America, where it earned 171.64 points.

“It was my first debut of this program, Schindler’s List,” Brown said. “I’ve been working really hard on it all summer and getting into the emotion of it and working it through. I think I really tried to put my heart into it here. I had a rough go of it yesterday a little bit with confidence. I tried to put it behind me and focus on the performance and taking it one step at a time and really settling into it rather than getting ahead of myself.”

Brown won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in the team event and followed that up with a national title in 2015. But he missed the 2018 Olympic team and is now in his second season training in Toronto under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson. Brown’s free skate included no quads, though he said he intends to incorporate them as the season progresses.

The last time two U.S. men shared the Skate America podium was 2017, when training partners Chen and Adam Rippon earned gold and silver, respectively.

Russia’s Dmitri Aliev earned the bronze medal with 156.98-point free skate with 253.55 points overall.

China’s Jin Boyang, who finished fourth in PyeongChang, ultimately finished sixth in Las Vegas (224.98 points). His free skate included two falls on two quad attempts.

The third American man in the field, Alex Krasnozhon, finished ninth with 216.59 points.

MORE: How to watch Skate America

Earlier Saturday, China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang maintained their lead on the pairs’ field and won gold with a “Cloud Atlas” free skate that earned 128.16 points for an overall score of 200.89 points. It’s the team’s first-ever Grand Prix gold medal, despite Peng’s fall on a throw triple loop landing that sent her sliding into the boards.

Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin from Russia earned silver with a 125.73-point free skate and 196.98 overall points. They were the 2018 world junior champions and skated to selections from “Tron Legacy.”

Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier took the bronze with 192.70 total points, their first medal on the Grand Prix circuit since they won silver at Skate America in 2016. They actually placed second with their “Lion King” free skate which earned 127.73 points, but it didn’t make up for the deficit leftover from their short program.

“We know we have so much to bring to our team,” Denney said afterward through U.S. Figure Skating. “It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is. This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

“We know we have so much to bring to our team. It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is,” Frazier added. “This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, also from the U.S., finished fourth in their Grand Prix debut (180.52 points). Reigning U.S. national champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who won bronze at last year’s Skate America, finished fifth (177.54 points).

“We know we have so much to bring to our team,” LeDuc said. “It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is. This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue defend Skate America title

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!