Tag Archive for: Selena Zhao

Selena Zhao wins junior women’s title in Kingston

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – It was a fight, every step.

But Selena Zhao “is a tough gal,” said coach Christy Krall, after Zhao, in her first appearance at a Canadian championship, won the junior women’s title in a landslide.

The 16-year-old skater, born in Seattle, but now representing Canada this year, won the free skate last night at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships with 90.46 points, 11.06 points more than her closest competitor.

Zhao won the gold medal with 140.67 points, also 13.34 points higher than anyone else could muster on a night when most competitors had a bumpy ride.

Zhao had a bumpy ride, too, but she overcame it. “When I got onto the six-minute warmup, my legs felt really slow and I tried not to let it distract me,” she said. “Sometimes I go into a program and everything is really easy. But today, I knew it was going to be a fight.”

And how she delivered. Zhao let fly a double Axel –triple toe loop, a triple flip-double toe loop, two triple Lutzes, one in a hard-fought series, a solo triple flip and a triple Salchow. She finished after the music.

Zhao will now have to advance to the senior level next year, but she’ll fit right in, with skills like that.

Krall explained that Zhao didn’t do so well at the Skate Canada Challenge competition in December because she had “a little sprain” in her foot. And it “kind of” stopped her training.

“I’m really proud of her to come in here and really let it go tonight,” Krall said. “You have to realize that this is only her second nationals…She has a really great competitive soul, good spirit, hard worker.”

Zhao is also a top student. Krall said she has earned the highest awards in every academic class she takes at the Cheyenne Mountain School in Colorado Springs, where she trains.

“She’s climbed a lot of mountains to climb this particular mountain,” Krall said. “She’s going to loosen up after this for sure. “

Cailey England, 17, of Quesnet, B.C. won the silver medal with 127.33 points while Justine Belzile, 17, of Quebec City took the bronze with 124.22 points.

England provided the small crowd with some of the brighter moments of the night, skating to a Piazzolla tango and a rusty-red jeweled costume.

She was off last year with a sport hernia that required surgery  and four months away from the ice. This is her second season as a junior. During her first season in 2013, she was 18th at Skate Canada Challenge and eighth at the junior nationals.

“This is so exciting,” England said afterward. “It felt so real.” She had been second after the short programs, but kept her nerves in check. She trains with Karen and Jason Mongrain of Kelowna, B.C. who are starting to make inroads on the national skating scene with their attention to posture, carriage, movement, polish and skill development. “They are really great coaches,” she said.

England finds the difficult flip and Lutz jumps easy. She doesn’t do triple loop or triple toe loop yet.

The senior events begin today.

Junior skaters impress at national championships

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Selena Zhao hasn’t had a straight and easy path to her first national skating championship in Canada: travel woes, injury, learning curves.

Born in Seattle, Zhao has become a transplanted Canadian this season, and on Wednesday, she finally found her feet, finishing first in the junior women’s short program with 50.21 points, two points more than her closest rival.

Zhao finished only seventh at the Skate Canada Challenge event leading to this competition, but she had been back on ice for only two weeks after injuring her right foot while training an ambitious triple flip – triple toe loop combination.

She had been off for two weeks, after landing “funny” on that combo. It hurt so badly, she couldn’t walk the next day. And when she did get back to work, she couldn’t train normally because everything hurt when she tried that combination again. Leading up to this event, she couldn’t practice the triple-triple version of it.

On Wednesday, she did a triple flip – double toe loop, as pretty as you please, following it with a triple Lutz. When she landed a fine double Axel, she broke into a smile and finished the program that way, skating on air.

As the week unfolds, Zhao says she is “honoured” to have the opportunity to skate for Canada at the nationals. “It’s so cool,” she said. “I’m here and it’s wonderful. This whole thing is so different to me and I’m just happy to be part of it.”

Her mother is in Kingston to watch. “It’s really cool because she was in Ottawa for such a long time,” Zhao said. And Kingston is reminding her of home. “It’s nice to see her getting in touch with her roots,” Zhao said.

Zhao’s goals this year are rather indefinable. “At the very beginning of the season, I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “You don’t really know what’s possible or not.”

Getting to some Junior Grand Prix events has been a bonus, and Zhao has learned much from them, also considering that she endured horrendous travel issues at both. At her trip to Dresden in Germany, her flight was cancelled because of a Lufthansa strike.

She’s also learned what it’s like to compete with skaters from other countries. “A big thing is confidence,” she said. She arrived in Germany, gawking at the Russian and Japanese girls, about whom she heard so much. Then she suddenly realized that they were all doing the same jumps too. “It was an eye-opener,” she said.

Justine Brasseur has learned a lot this week, too. She and partner Mathieu Ostiguy are the new novice pair champions, winning with a powerful performance and 111.63 points. The previous night, Brasseur had an unusually poor skate in the women’s novice free skate, after leading the short program – and dropped to a bronze medal. Coach Josée Picard said when her first jump in the routine was a little off, Brasseur tensed up. Picard knew that it would be a fight after that, as Brasseur became cautious. And she was.

But in the novice pair event, Brasseur and Ostiguy – skating pairs for the first time this season – delivered fine lifts, throws and jumps. Ostiguy said the twist was the hardest element for him to learn. They did a double twist here and after nationals, they will start training the triple.

“It’s a dream come true,” Ostiguy said. And about skating pairs, after refusing for so many years? “It was a great decision,” said a jubilant Ostiguy.

(Tiny) Olivia and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy won the silver medal with 108.44 points while Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland won the bronze with 103.60 points.

Trading Places: US-born Selena Zhao proudly represents Canada

Yes, Selena Zhao has moxie. Over the summer, still only 16, she made a bold move, changing everything about her life, most notably her flag.

Born in the U.S.A., where she first took her tottering skating strokes, Zhao made a clean sweep of all her past steps, and decided to skate for Canada.

She’ll compete in her second ISU Junior Grand Prix event for Canada next week in Dresden, Germany. Her first was in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where she finished tenth, but the memory will be forever engrained.

“I was honoured,” she said from her training ground in Colorado Springs. “The team was so supportive, it really made me feel like I was part of something bigger. It really motivated me to skate my hardest and make the team and the nation proud.”

Her initiation into the fold wasn’t so easy. She got her first taste of travel woes on the way to Ljubljana, when she couldn’t even get out of the Colorado Springs airport. She was to have travelled to her destination through Chicago, and Brussels, Belgium. Stuck in the home airport for nine hours, because of severe thunderstorms in Chicago, Zhao missed all of her connections, and had to start again the next day. Her route became even more complicated: Denver, Washington, D.C., Vienna and Ljubljana.

She arrived an hour before her first practice, enormously jetlagged after managing only an hour of sleep on the plane. “It actually turned out to be a pretty good practice,” she said. “I’m keeping that in my bag of experiences that I can draw on.”

(Here in the value of Junior Grand Prix events.)

Zhao is a nice little addition to the Skate Canada fold, particularly because she’s already adept at doing triples. She falls in Canada’s trend of female skaters: “We have that group of 17 down to 12 that are really developed in a lot of ways,” said Michael Slipchuk, High Performance Director for Skate Canada.

“She does all the triples,” he said. “She does do triple-triple combo. That’s what the junior ladies are doing right now.” Also, there’s an ease with her coming from Christy Krall’s stable in Colorado; Krall has worked with a number of Canadian skaters, including Patrick Chan, Amélie Lacoste and now Liam Firus. “She knows how our system works,” Slipchuk said.

Zhao’s parents were both born in Beijing, but they emigrated together to Canada, where her father attended school in Vancouver and even spent some time in Ottawa, where Zhao’s older brother, Davis, was born. She has another brother, also born in Canada.

Father Zhao eventually got a job in Seattle, where Selena was born. Selena has recently become a dual citizen, but because she never competed internationally for the United States, she has not had to seek a release. Competing for Canada had always been an option in the back of her mind, she said. “Since my whole family is Canadian, it was a very natural position for me to be in, representing Canada.”

Zhao was a precocious skater, once she decided it was what she loved, at age 10. She landed her first triple right when she turned 12, while doing the others in harness. That first triple “was really fun,” she said. She mastered the last of her triples, the Lutz a year later.

And Zhao is an anomaly. Did growth spurts ever throw her jumps astray? Not really. Zhao was mastering these jumps WHILE she was growing, she said. “I’ve seen it happen,” she said. “But not very often.”

But the impetus to change came from hard times. When she first came to Krall at age 14 ½, Zhao was able to do very athletic things. “She was what I would call an overachiever,” Krall said. “She was throwing herself in a lot of wrong directions. That eventually caught up to her and her competitiveness. She is a massive jumper and when you take that mass off the ice, it’s very hard for you to get into your positions fast enough.”

Krall worked on technique, but it all takes time to change old habits. Last year, Zhao might do a great short and a fumbly long or vice versa because “her technique was not where it needed to be,” Krall said. It cost her dearly. Zhao didn’t even qualify for the U.S. championships. “It was a crying shame,” Krall said.

After that disappointment, and a heartfelt conversation with Krall, Zhao committed to changing her technique. It was a monumental mind change. They spent the entire spring working on fixing her technical skills. And it’s working. Through it all, Zhao felt she needed a change of pace in her life to mentally turn a page.

“It was all about change,” Krall said. “I’m going to change my technique. I’m going to change where I’m going. I’m going to change my view of myself….She felt stuck… The whole family is excited to be back in the fold of Canada.”

While training with Krall in Colorado Springs, Zhao met Amélie Lacoste, who had come to change her career too, and try to give it a kickstart in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics. Zhao shared a locker room with her and the two became friends.

“It was very inspiring to watch her train – she and Liam [Firus] together,” Zhao said. “She worked very hard at the rink. What I really liked about her was that she wasn’t too good for anyone. She talked to all of us. When any of us needed picking up, she was always there.”

When Zhao talked to Lacoste about skating for Canada, Lacoste was very excited and “was all for it,” Zhao said.

Zhao also met Montreal coach Annie Barabé, who brought some students to Colorado Springs to work with Krall. “She was really nice and I worked with her a little,” Zhao said. Next thing you know, Zhao was working at Barabé’s training centre in Contrecoeur, competing at Quebec summer championships and striking up a relationship with her. She loved the training atmosphere in Contrecoeur.

Zhao’s new adventure is a new, exciting one. Krall said Zhao just decided to change to see if she had it in her to excel. “It was putting herself out there to make lots of risky moves,” Krall said. “And the result is feeling very comfortable.”