His Four Continents experiment – putting the quad in the short program – was a learning experience that cost Canadian champion Nam Nguyen nothing but a few lumps.
He took his lumps (11th overall at Four Continents) and will compete at his second world championship with an eye to the future. In other words, although he will be there to show his wares and enjoy himself, he also has another important task: to keep spots for Canadian men for next year at worlds in Boston. Therefore the quad in the short program is coming out. He’ll go back to using triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe loop and triple flip. It worked for him this season when he earned bronze at his very first senior Grand Prix, and won his first Canadian senior title.
He’s not alone in having this on his shoulders. Jason Brown is dropping his quad, too, noting that it’s not at the consistency level he needs to try it at worlds. Like Nguyen, Brown attempted a quad (but a toe loop) in the short program, underrotated it significantly, then messed up his triple Axel. Nguyen doubled his quad Salchow and fell on his triple Axel.
The difference between the two was that Nguyen has been doing quad Salchows quite successfully in his free throughout this season (he underrotated it at Four Continents), but Brown did not attempt one at all in the free in Seoul.
Bottom line: Brown finished sixth at Four Continents, 46 points behind gold medalist Denis Ten. And Nguyen’s personal best was 57 points behind Ten. There comes a point when you know that landing a quad at a world championship is less important than finishing as high as possible in the standings to preserve spots for next year. That’s why, for some, the world championships may not show their ultimate skill sets.
At this world championship, Canada has only two entries, Nguyen and Jeremy Ten. If the two of them together have placements that are less than or equal 13 points, Canada gets three men for next year. Considering the entry list, this is going to be very tough. Failing that, they’ll keep the two spots if their placements don’t fall below 28 points. At this point, this is key.
The United States had a better world championship last year than Canada in the men’s event. Even though the US had only two entrants last year, those skaters made the most of their chances. With Jeremy Abbott finishing fifth and Max Aaron eighth, they just managed to earn enough points to send three this year: U.S. champ Brown, Four Continents silver medalist Joshua Farris and the mercurial Adam Rippon, who could rip up the pea patch if he landed everything in his arsenal. IF.
The other issue is finishing high enough in the standings to get two Grand Prix assignments for next year. Finish in the top 12 for singles events and top 10 for dance and pairs events at worlds, and you can be invited for two Grand Prix events the following season, too.
So Nguyen has a plan and it doesn’t include the quad Salchow in the short program. Coach Brian Orser realized it was a tall order for Nguyen to land one at Four Continents. “But it’s really the only event that was can at a high level take a risk and give it a try, because it’s not going to affect whether he goes to worlds,” said the coach. “And it doesn’t affect how many people go next year. It was really the only place we could turn up the heat and give it a good try.”
Nguyen tried the quad in a short program simulation recently and judge monitors told him that the quad “took a lot of energy from the program, which didn’t look nice at all, especially the footwork,” he said. “I didn’t put a lot of effort into it, because I was thinking of the triple Axel that was after my footwork.” That helped him make his decision to return to the old setups.
Therefore, Four Continents becomes one of these magical competitions where folks might get to see all skaters’ best “Higher, Faster, Stronger” attempts.
Nguyen realized that doing a short program is much more stressful than doing a free program. “It’s a different feeling from the long program because in the long, If I make a mistake on the quad, then I have seven more jumps to do, whereas in the short, I only have two more jumps,” he said. “It’s just the mentality of it is a little bit different for me.” Nguyen admitted he was nervous and “a lot of thoughts came into my head” just before the jump. That’s not vintage Nguyen.
Orser said that the body feels different and the tension is different in the short program. He’ll go back to the short he did throughout the season. “We’re not going to break any records with that,” he said. “However, we’re going to get him set up in a nice position, with a clean short hopefully. Then go out and do a clean long and move up.
“That’s where he really makes a big difference: is the long. He’s in such great condition and the chances are, he will do a pretty clean , if not a very clean program, and that’s where a lot of the other boys don’t. He’s quite consistent and that’s the feather in our cap for the free program.”
Nguyen is also handling some new challenges this year, too. Last year, Nguyen went to worlds as a world junior champion, and it was a bonus to get an assignment to the world seniors as well. He handled it well, finishing 12th. “But this season, he’s Canadian champion and he has to carry that responsibility and I know what that feels like. But you just have to dig your heels in and keep moving forward.”
Nguyen said he isn’t giving his new national title a thought. “To be honest, I’m just having the same mindset as usual, just have fun and do the best I can for both of my performances.”
He’s grown more this year, after shooting up about half a foot last year, but he’s an old pro at handling the changing length of his body. Still, it’s miraculous that the 16-year-old has added a quad Salchow so quickly. His work ethic is legendary. He’ll arrive in Shanghai well-trained and ready.
Recently, social media has shown Nguyen and training mate Javier Fernandez landing quad Salchows in synch at the Cricket Club where they train. They did it after the simulation. At first they had planned to do triple Axels in synch, but nah, why not go for the gusto?
The first time they tried it, Nguyen doubled his. The next time, they landed quad Salchows in the same breath. “It was just a really cool thing to do,” he said.
They did this, despite the fact that they have different entries going into that jump-. Nguyen does his from a basic forward three-turn. Fernandez launches himself from travelling Mohawks. “They had to do some synchronizing to get them to take off at the same time,” Orser said. “It’s fun. They do that every once in a while.”
As for the irrepressible Brown, he had to fend off questions about whether or not he can be competitive without the quad. Brown thinks he can. “I’ve gotten to compete against them [top skaters] for two years,” he said. “I have not had a quad those two years in the program. Every year, I compete a little bit stronger. Every year I’m more confident with what I have and my scores continue to grow. My goal is to continue to grow and put up scores that are very par and better than some people that put out the quad.”
He’s proud of the growing experience at trying the quad at Four Continents. “I think that was a big step forward for me,” he said. Since the Four Continents, he says he’s strengthened his programs, changing some of the patterns. Still, getting three men for Boston worlds is at the forefront of his mind. He’ll have a tough task at this point trying to edge out quad experts like Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez and Denis Ten, who are going for medals.
Brown works on the quad every day, he says. He knows that to reach his ultimate goals, he’ll have to have that quad in the program. Just not yet.
“I’m going to get the quad some day and it’s going to be incredible,” he said. “I think I’ve been told multiple times I’m not able to reach a certain point without a quad. I was told for many years I couldn’t really do anything big on the junior circuit without a triple Axel, and I was able to win the Junior Grand Prix and medal at junior worlds. And I was told that without a quad, my chances of making the Olympic team were super low. And my chances of getting an Olympic medal were slim to none. I was able to turn some heads when I was less than a point out in the short program at the Olympics without a quad. I can’t afford to let myself think it’s not possible. I think if I skate the way I know I can skate, anything is possible.”
It’s the only way to think, quad or not.