Thursday, October 15, 2009

For Zhang, it's all about peaking at the right time, Perfectionist Kim adds to her technical arsenal

Caroline Zhang had a solid run-through of her short program at this afternoon's practice, but she isn't satisfied.

"I was a little shaky. I've got some jet lag. I only got three hours sleep last night, so I'm glad I'm awake."

The U.S. bronze medalist may be extra tired after a few tumultuous months. This summer, the 16-year-old Californian left coach Mingzhu Li to train under Charlene Wong, only to return to Li less than two months later. A slight tear to her right ACL (knee) wreaked further havoc to her training schedule.

"I had a rough summer," she admitted. "I'm happy just to be competing here. I'm thinking of this event as practice. I'm not expecting too much; I haven't had too much time to go all out running through my programs.

"I'm still going to the physiotherapist, but that's almost done. I should be back at 95 per cent by the time of [my next event] Skate Canada."

The injury to Zhang's landing leg has forced an adjustment: there will be no triple flip-triple toe combination in her short program, set to Spanish Gypsy melodies.

"This is not my final competition layout," she emphasized. "I'm not doing a triple-triple here, because I don't want to risk a downgrade. I don't want to influence [the technical panel] to maybe give me downgrades in the future. I'm playing it safe."

Last season, Zhang felt she had her best skates after the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, too late to qualify for the U.S. world team. She's determined not to make the same mistake twice.

"I'm thinking nationals. I don't want to peak too early. I don't want to peak too late. I want to be on that Olympic team."

A fit Yu-Na Kim, who won her world title by a resounding 16-point margin last season, is taking an opposite approach.

The 19-year-old South Korean became the first woman to break the 200-point barrier in competition at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships. Now she's tinkering with her jump layout, hoping to increase her technical elements score.

"It's going great," said Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medalist who trains Kim in Toronto.

"I'm glad she's here at the first 'big bang' of the season. She did the first Grand Prix event [Skate America] last year and we're trying to follow that pattern as closely as possible. I like that there's a good field here."

Kim, who impressed with a near-clean run-through of her free skate to Gershwin's "Piano Concerto in F" this afternoon, will face off against long-time rival Mao Asada plus two-time European champion Carolina Kostner, Zhang and two-time Japanese bronze medalist Yukari Nakano, among others.

Orser hopes a new triple-triple combination will help his pupil lead the pack.

"She's doing the triple Lutz-triple toe in both her free and short [to James Bond movie themes], because her flip is really better when she does it by itself," Orser explained. "It's a definite inside take-off edge. If she sails across the ice [to do a triple-triple] it tends to flatten out."

Both Zhang and Kim's reasoning highlights the ever-evolving complexity of the International Judging System, where an edge or under rotation call can mean the difference between winning gold and finishing off of the podium.

"Yu-Na will get more points for a true flip with a clean edge, plus the Lutz-toe is worth more points as a combination," Orser said.

"She's a perfectionist; she wants every jump to be clean for the callers and judges."

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