US skating champ Aaron holds own in worlds debut
LONDON, Ontario -- Max Aaron's time as a hockey player came in handy.
The U.S. champion knocked his head against the boards when he fell on a quadruple jump attempt during warm-ups for Wednesday night's short program at the World Figure Skating Championships.
The crowd gasped, but Aaron got up with a smile and gave fans sitting in the front row a thumb's up.
"It was kind of a shock It was like a little hockey hit," said Aaron, who played bantam and midget elite hockey. "But it made me focus, really narrow in and I think I did that today."
Aaron held his own in his worlds debut, skating one of the few clean programs of the night and finishing a respectable eighth (78.20 points).
But the Americans will have a tough time regaining a third spot for the Sochi Olympics after Ross Miner finished 14th after falling on his quadruple salchow. Aaron and Miner need to finish with a combined placement of 13 or better -- fifth and eighth, for example -- to earn three spots for Sochi.
Aaron nearly quit skating after last season, tired of hearing how he'd never be among the world's elite. He's sure proven the critics wrong.
"He said, `Look, I'm here and this isn't a fluke I can do it and I'm going to keep doing it," coach Tom Zakrajsek said.
His entire program had a no-nonsense air of confidence. He opened with the first quad of the night, a quadruple salchow, tacking on a double toe loop for the combination. He'd hoped to do a quad-triple combination, but settled for the quad-double because he felt the landing on the quad was "really scratchy."
He had to fight for the landing on his triple axel, too, coming within inches of the boards.
"I definitely hung onto that one," he said, laughing "I kind of went off a bit goofy, but I'm not here to fall."
Aaron's artistry still has room for improvement, but he's made great strides even since the U.S. championships in January. He got positive grades of execution on all of his elements, and his footwork got the maximum level four.
"Hopefully, I'm close to the guys. That's what I want," Aaron said. "I don't expect to be first after the short program but I want to be within reach."
SOCHI WOES: The Russian men's prospects for the Sochi Olympics took a big hit.
Maxim Kovtun needs to finish in the top 10 at the world championships to earn Russia two spots at its own Olympics next year. But a dismal performance in the short program Wednesday night left him in 19th place, almost 10 points out of 10th. Kovtun popped the second jump in his triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, only doing a single.
"If we get only one spot for next year, we'll send the one who deserves it," coach Tatiana Tarasova said.
That would be a stunning fall for the Russians, who produced four of the last five Olympic champions and the silver medalist in 2010. But they've never found a suitable heir to Evgeni Plushenko, and are paying the price now.
The 2006 Olympic champion is trying to hang on for Sochi, but was forced to withdraw from this year's European championships with yet another back injury.
Kovtun was a controversial pick to come to worlds in Plushenko's place, having finished fifth at Russian nationals. But he is 17, and the Russians are looking for someone -- anyone -- in the next generation.
"I explain this with a lack of experience," Tarasova said. "It is a shame. But I don't regret that he is here. He needs experience."
GOING FOR SPIN: Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim are quick studies.
The pair have been working with spin coach Janet Champion three days a week since finishing second at the U.S. championships in January. Unison in spins is perhaps the toughest skill for a new pair to master, and Scimeca and Knierim have been together less than a year.
"Spins and transitions are our weak point, so we thought we'd get started for next year," Scimeca said. "It's been working out really well."
You could say that. Scimeca and Knierim's combination spin in Wednesday's short program was as good as any of the top couples, done in unison and in time with their music. They got the maximum level four, and had positive grades of execution from six of the nine judges.
"We were both shocked at how different things were," Scimeca said.
The Americans were 12th in their worlds debut, just ahead of U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir.
OUCH: A month off may not have been enough for Olympic silver medalists Pang Qing and Tong Jian.
The two-time world champions were sixth in the short program Wednesday after making two major mistakes. He didn't get all the way around on their side-by-side triple toe loops and two-footed the landing, and she tipped sideways on their step sequence. Their score of 63.95 leaves them almost 10 points from third place, a big gap to close in Friday's free skate.
"The skate today was so-so, not bad," Tong said. "Because of my knee injury, it is harder for us to compete."
Pang and Tong, whose 15 appearances at worlds are more than any other active skater, are determined to go through next year's Sochi Olympics. But they've been battling injuries along the way, and took a month off after winning the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final in December.
"Less competition and more training," Tong said. "I'm still in pain today. But we are trying for more points."
ICE CHIPS: Visa problems forced Pavel Ignatenko of Belarus to withdraw before the men's short program Wednesday. ... Russian pair Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov didn't arrive in London until 1 a.m. Tuesday, about 36 hours before the short program. "I felt OK this morning in practice," Smirnov said. "But now I would like to go to bed."
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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