Nam Nguyen takes on the ISU Senior Grand Prix circuit for the first time

Not only has Nguyen benefited from training alongside an Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and a European champion Javier Fernandez, with high style and quad jumps peppering the practice sessions in Toronto, but the 16-year-old found himself invited to a skating show in Japan in early summer with some of the best skaters in the world.

There was Nguyen, 2014 world junior champion, world championship competitor, on the same ice with Stephane Lambiel, Daisuke Takahashi, Nobunari Oda and his training mate Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic champion. “It’s humbling, but it’s good for him,” said coach Brian Orser.

“It was amazing,” Nguyen said. “The rink was really small and that didn’t really stop any of them doing quad toes. It was crazy. And Yuzu was just on fire. ” With Nguyen watching, Hanyu did a quad Salchow, a quad toe loop, a quad loop. And he landed a quad Lutz right in front of Nguyen. “It was pretty cool,” Nguyen said.

It was the perfect launch to Nguyen’s first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. He’ll be competing at Skate America and Cup of China, although not Skate Canada in Kelowna, B.C. Wherever he skates, he’ll be stepping up what he did last year.

Although Nguyen got off to a slow and frustrating start last season, no doubt because of his incredible growth spurt, he ended the season increasing his technical content with each competition: triple Axel, triple Axel-double toe loop, triple Axel-triple toe loop. This year, he’s not slowing down, and has been tackling a quad Salchow. He fell at his first attempt at the Thornhill Summer Skate.

The good news? Coach Brian Orser has told Nguyen that he’s getting this quad more quickly than the triple Axel, which took him two years to master. “This one is less than a year,” Nguyen said. The quad is his third jump, and it will be an interesting mental exercise to do it. It’s preceded by two triple Axels. The trick, Orser said, is to keep Nguyen calm during the two Axels – when he knows that quad is coming.

“He’s been training it well,” Orser said. “It’s a little under-rotated, but it looks like one, and you can see that it’s going to be one.”

Nguyen is also wrestling with two new programs and he’s breaking loose with a new musical concept for skating with his short program to “The Sinnerman.” At first, choreographer Jeff Buttle wanted him to skate to classical music, but Nguyen didn’t like the idea that it was music from the same choreographer as last year’s long program (Bach). “I asked him for something a little more upbeat and more fun that I can skate to,” Nguyen said.

Buttle emerged with “The Sinnerman” and for the first few days, Nguyen was against this one, too, thinking he couldn’t skate to it. His parents told him to have faith in Buttle. But when Nguyen heard the first music cut, he fell in love with it. “I was wrong,” Nguyen said. “It was amazing when I heard it. It’s pretty cool and I have had a great time skating to it.”

The Sinnerman is an African American traditional spiritual song, and Buttle used the soundtrack from the 1999 movie “The Thomas Crown Affair” (starring Pierce Brosnan) about the theft of a valuable piece of art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The routine is different for Nguyen because he’s never skated to vocals before. “Jeff took full advantage of that,” Nguyen said. “It was kind of weird doing it the first time, especially going into my first triple Axel. I’m not used to that, but it’s pretty cool and I’m sure I can quickly adjust to it.”

Choreographer David Wilson picked out “La Strada” for Nguyen’s long program. “I liked it because Daisuke Takahashi skated to it at the 2010 Olympics and also Jeff Buttle during the 2002 season,” Nguyen said. “I’ve watched their programs a lot and I wanted to not copy them, but get an idea of how they performed to the music so I can apply my own version to it. I like it a lot.”

What is his own version? Wilson and music maestro Hugo Chouinard were clever enough to pick some music cuts from the popular “La Strada” that other skaters haven’t used. To Nguyen, it’s like a new discovery. “So we have the more main stream music pieces, and we also have the more unknown pieces,” Nguyen said. “I think that will make my program interesting and very special.”

“La Strada is a nice segway into big boy skating,” Orser said. “We can’t do the cute. It doesn’t fly in senior. You need to have speed and power.” Nguyen has been working on increasing his speed going into his jumps, too.

When he performed the free at Thornhill, his score of 146.46 almost matched his personal best score set at the world championships last March. He’s off to a good start. “Usually my first competitions of the season are terrible,” Nguyen admitted. “And this year is the first time I’ve competed pretty late, and I think I did an excellent job, putting out my two new programs. They are not perfect yet, and I need to work much harder and improve every little detail in my program.”

He’s already had a taste of senior international championships last year, having finished 10th at the Four Continents and a very respectable 12th at the world championships in Japan, despite having grown at least a foot.

And he’s still growing – in every way. Since the world championships, he’s grown another two inches and now stands five feet, 8 ½ inches tall. “This time, I already know what it feels like and I wanted to face it head on and just continue my practice sessions normal, everyday,” Nguyen said. “And that worked. There are some days I have a lot of struggles, but I’m okay right now.”

At Thornhill Summer Skate, he sported a pair of size eight shoes. At home he has a pair that are size nine. Nguyen is prepared to grow into himself.

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