San Francisco, CA

Skating on the Edge: The Road to 2021 Nationals for Two San Francisco Figure Skaters Amid Covid 19

Johanna Miyaki

By: Johanna Miyaki

There are a total of eight edges on a pair of ice skates. Using the edges effectively must be learned to become a good skater. This is how the skater moves forward and backward, skates on a curve and performs turns. Edges make it possible to push harder to gain the speed needed for jumps too. It is all about the edge in skating and skillful skaters make it look deceptively easy as they glide around the ice, for the great ones, it appears seemingly effortless.

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November 20, 2020, San Francisco, CA – Figure Skater Kate Wang shows off her new skates, she says, “I’m still breaking them in but I can tell a difference in my skating already.” Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki

Leaving it all on the Ice

Typically, when most people think of figure skating, it evokes the sounds of beautiful music, images of adorned costumes and visions of graceful moves and breathtaking jumps and spins on the ice. While it is certainly all those things, it is also an extremely tough sport that is very physically and mentally demanding. Figure skaters are elite athletes, fierce competitors, and the best of them are highly driven. They must be both resilient and relentless to master challenging jumps and spins. Falls on the cold, hard ice with no pads or protective gear are frequent and often painful when learning new jumps. They must be flexible, despite how difficult it is to keep muscles loose while working for hours on the ice. Finally, they must remain calm, exude grace and hold perfect posture and positions while executing flawless footwork between multiple jumps and spins. Did I mention they must run through routines repetitively during hours long practices, once or twice a day, usually six days a week on top of daily off-ice conditioning? They must perform at their peak greatness for the precious minutes of their programs. There are no rebounds, no time outs, no extra innings, no overtime and you can’t make a comeback in the second half. Figure Skaters are the total package, they are artists, entertainers, and athletes.

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November 19, 2020, San Francisco, CA – Figure Skater Dihn Tran wraps his ankle for practice, recovering from a slight sprain at Nationals in the beginning of the year, he continues to take care while training to avoid reinjury. It is estimated that when a skater lands a jump, they sustain an impact of about 6-8 times their bodyweight. Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki

A Home on the Ice for San Francisco Skaters

Figure Skating is widely viewed as a "single sport", however at Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (YBIBC), it is much more like a team sport, it is a community of athletes, young and seasoned, where everyone is part of a family. If there were a fairy Godmother of the figure skating family at YBIBC, it would surely be Paige Scott, Vice President and General Manager of YBIBC for more than 20 years. She is a San Francisco native, her mother was a competitive figure skater, performed in professional touring ice shows including "Ice Follies" and later became a skating Coach. Scott seemed to follow in her mother's footsteps, competing locally as a youth skater and turning pro at age 13. She skated for ten years in touring ice shows like “Ice Capades” before becoming a skating coach. She coached the synchronized ice-skating team, the Belmont Ice Breakers from 1995-1998 and managed the holiday ice rinks in San Francisco before resigning to become the manager of the new the Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center opening in San Francisco.

Scott founded a new synchronized ice-skating team at Yerba Buena in 1998, The San Francisco Tremors. Today, the Tremors Synchronized Skating Teams are the largest synchronized skating organization in the Bay Area. Scott currently coaches the San Francisco Ice Theatre (SFIT), proud members of US Figure Skating Theatre on Ice and The Skating Club of San Francisco, their teams compete in US Figure Skating National and International competitions and perform ice shows around the United States.

Scott remembers the loss to the local ice-skating community when the last full-sized ice-skating rink in San Francisco closed in 1976. When she opened the doors of YBIBC in 1998 as the manager of the rink, she set out to create a home for ice-skating in San Francisco. She is passionate about figure skating and nurturing the community she has built there. Her commitment to the sport and the community is at the center of everything she does for the skaters, coaches, and staff. Her connection to skating informs an inclusive approach to serving everyone learning and training on the ice there. “It’s a very special place”, says Scott.

Training During a Pandemic

While many youth and adult athletes that skate at YBIBC were off the ice during the four-month closure in March brought on by the Covid 19 pandemic. The loss of valuable time on the ice with their coaches during the shelter-in-place mandates were particularly challenging for elite athletes like San Francisco based US figure skaters Dinh Tran, 19, and Kate Wang, 15 that were training for the upcoming season.

The shutdowns have hit skating rinks hard, Scott recalls the struggle to reopen YBIBC despite lay-offs and lost revenue. “We had to melt the ice for several months to cut operational costs and were able to welcome back some of our youth and adult athletes under strict guidelines and very limited capacity over the summer.” says Scott. “We hoped to offer skating to the public this winter since holiday ice rinks in San Francisco did not reopen this year due to COVID however with the latest surge that pushed San Francisco into the purple tier, we are closed again, it’s not clear what the future holds for us, the skating community and the athletes that train here.”

During a time when figure skaters like Wang, a sophomore at Lowell High School in San Francisco and Tran, a freshman at CSU Long Beach, would typically be training twice a day, they have been sidelined by mandated rink closures. When SF Bay Area ice rinks closed during Covid, they were floor training, dancing, and conditioning to maintain a peak performance readiness. Thier home ice rink is YBIBC in San Francisco.

Most school aged, elite athletes choose homeschooling to accommodate the demands of their training schedules. Tran and Wang have not been home schooled, and now they are distance learning like most students across the country. They must make time to consult with coaches and choreographers online and try to get as much time on the ice when possible all while working around their online school schedules.

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November 19, 2020, San Francisco, CA - Elite figure skater Dinh Tran warms up on the floor in preparation to practice his long program for the US Figure Skating Championships in 2021. Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki

Meet Dinh Tran

Dinh Tran, is a figure skater that competes nationally and internationally for Team USA. He is currently ranked 8th in the United States in the senior men’s division. He is also a two-time silver medalist in the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships (2019, 2018). I had the opportunity to watch him practice, he skates with such intensity and determination it fills his performance with anticipation. With every jump landed, you eagerly wait for the next. His triples are exquisite, often in a rapid-fire succession of three’s (known as ‘triple-triples’) and his program will have coveted quadruples or ‘quad jumps’ (jumps that involve at least four full revolutions) that have become essential jumps in men’s figure-skating competitions.

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November 19, 2020, San Francisco, CA – Dinh Tran, 19, is a figure skater from San Francisco and member of Team USA. Tran trains on his home ice at Yerba Buena Ice Skating Center. Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki
When asked how his freshman year of college at CSU Long Beach has been, since everything is online, Tran gives a matter of fact reply, “It is not ideal and definitely not how I envisioned starting college, but I am just focused on what I have to do.” He has already declared his major, engineering. Indeed, it seems he is applying the same laser focus he has on his skating to college. “Paige [Scott] has been nice about organizing my ice time in between my classes when the rink is open, Tran says, it’s a little difficult going back and forth all the time but it’s all about practice and pushing yourself beyond your limits. When the rinks are open, I train here six days a week. When the rinks are not open, I train off ice. No matter what, I am in training mode, so I am a little tired, but I just keep pushing forward.”
Despite his demanding schedule, he finds some down time too. What does this world class figure skater like to do in his free time? “I like cars, says Tran, fast cars!” He follows Nasar, Formula One racing and likes sci-fi movies, his all time favorite is “Tron”. Although he maintains a clean, healthy diet, his favorite “cheat meal” is pizza, usually from a place in his neighborhood.
Dee Goldstein has been Tran’s coach for the last three years; she is a former skater and works as a National Technical Specialist. She lives in Scottsdale, AZ and has been unable to train with Dinh in person since March, due to the pandemic, so they have been working virtually. She says, “Dinh is just so bright, so dedicated and works so hard. He sends videos of his practices every night that I review, send back, and we discuss by phone. He goes back and forth between classes at home and the rink in the morning and the afternoon. Dinh’s mom, Mimi, is amazing, she videos everything. Jeremey Abbott (four-time US Champion, two-time US Olympian, and Team USA Olympic Bronze Medalist) has been working with Dinh also and he has been just wonderful. But without Paige [Scott], none of this is possible, she has fought to keep the rink open when allowed, she has the ice ready for him around his class schedule and is just so supportive. I can’t say enough about her, she is a gem”.
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November 19, 2020, San Francisco, CA - Dinh and his mother, Mimi, make the trip from their home to the rink twice a day for practices. Mimi makes sure her son has everything he needs and has been sending videos of his practice routines during Covid to his head coach in Scottsdale, AZ. Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki

Meet Kate Wang

Kate Wang competes nationally and internationally on Team USA and is currently ranked 5th in the United States in the junior women division. She placed 2nd for the mixed team in the Winter Youth Olympics in 2020. She competes in individual women, novice women and mixed team. She is petite yet powerful on the ice and simply dazzling to watch. She shoots into the air for jumps and seems to float back down to the ice on her landings. While she says spinning in her least favorite move on the ice, she holds positions perfectly at dizzying speeds.

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November 20, 2020, San Francisco, CA – Kate Wang, 15, is a figure skater from San Francisco and a member of Team USA. Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki
Talking with her, it is easy to forget she is just 15 years old; she is poised and grounded. When she talks about her future its two-fold, skating and then after skating. She plans to be a marine biologist after skating. Meanwhile, she enjoys competing and exploring the places her competitions take her. Her family if from Beijing China, she says if she were to be invited to join Team USA there for the 2020 Olympic games, it would make the honor even more meaningful. She also enjoys going to school and plays the piano. “I like to hang out with my friends and learn at school. It takes my mind off things that may be happening with skating. When I am competing, I miss a lot of school and do my schoolwork independently. It has sort of prepared me for distance learning during the pandemic. Now, I mostly talk to friends online and play video games sometime. I started a mental health awareness club at school with some of my close friends so that has been fun to manage together."
Wang’s coach, Jeff Crandell, says “Kate had such a crazy season last year, we were in Russia, and Italy and Switzerland, it was just go, go, go. We had the Youth Olympics right before Nationals last season, then Nationals this season just weeks before the pandemic hit. It is never ideal to be taken off the ice for four months but for her, this break came at a good time, she was just physically tired and mentally tired as well. There are challenges getting back on the ice, she grew a bit during the break but, she has such a strong work ethic off ice and is consistent with her off ice conditioning, so she came back in good shape.”
Crandell has coached Wang since she was five years old and is a former skater as well. He says, “The biggest challenge for all the athletes is the lack of events and the lack of certainty for what the season will look like. Paige [Scott] has been fantastic, she has bent over backwards to accommodate all the skaters and get them on the ice safely, whether they are recreational skaters or elite skaters like Kate.” Crandell and Scott have history, Scott’s mother was Crandell’s skating coach as a youth skater. It really is a small world after all in the world of figure skating.
Wang says, “Other than the fact that we have to wear masks, it’s a little bit harder to breathe, I think it’s going pretty well. The ice is still the same and I got new skates so that’s helped me move on the ice. It was a little bit hard in the beginning because I took four months off, it was definitely something to get used to. I took me a few weeks to get my jumping back and I also grew during quarantine, so it took some time to adjust to that too but now, I think I am back to where I was before the quarantine.”
Crandell adds, “Normally we have competitions throughout the summer and camps that provide opportunities for feedback and critiques from judges but all of that didn’t happen, so we have been in kind of a holding pattern.”

2021 Competition Cancellations and Changes

The results of the 2021 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships (Nationals) are part of the U.S. selection criteria for the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships. It would also have been part of the selection criteria for the 2021 World Junior Figure Skating Championships and the 2021 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, but these events were cancelled.

The U.S. Figure Skating released this statement November 9, 2020:

"The 2021 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships, originally scheduled to take place in San Jose, California, Jan. 11-17, 2021, will relocate to Las Vegas at the Orleans Arena Jan. 11-21.” (A published update read: "U.S. Figure Skating also selected San Jose and SAP Center as host of the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.”)

Tran and Wang, along with all hundreds of other skaters, submitted videos of their routines in the presence of a proctor, in lieu of a live program to qualify for the 2021 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

When asked about their videos for Nationals and how these changes to Nationals for 2021 due to Covid will impacts the athletes, this is what they shared:

Tran shot his video submission at YBIBC before it shut down, he said, “I am feeling really good about my video. While I was skating, I was confident, with every jump, I knew exactly what I needed to do. In my training with Jeremy [Abbott], we have been working on my mindset, how I go through my programs and what I should be thinking about. I was focused on doing one thing at a time instead of each single element."
As for the changes to Nationals and the impact for athletes, Tran said, “It is natural for us [skaters] to be together during training and competitions. We have fun, we push each other and motivate each other so without that whole experience, you have to rely on self-motivation. It can be extra difficult to find right that self-motivation right now but if all goes well, I will see everyone in Las Vegas for Nationals.”
Wang shot her video submission at a rink in San Mateo county. She says, “It went really well for me. It was the first time skating a program without a face mask for a long time, so I had to get used to the cold wind on my face again and it is not my home ice rink. The program itself went really well, I didn’t fall, and I didn’t mess anything up. It was the first clean program I have skated with the triple-triple jump, even in practice, so I was really proud of myself.” (A “triple -triple is a jump with three to three and a half revolutions, done three times in a row).
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November 20, 2020, San Francisco, CA – Kate Wang, elite figure Skater says, "Skating with a face mask on took some getting used to, but the ice here [at YBIBC] is still the same." Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki
Crandell says, “So right now we are just waiting. We submitted our video for Nationals and had a call with US Figure Skating Committee and they updated us on what Nationals will look like in January, assuming Kate did enough in her video to make it.”
Goldstein is upbeat about both Tran’s submission and the changes at Nationals. “It’s new to everyone this judging remotely to qualify for Nationals, with virtual videography, but it is a wonderful system the US Figure Skating Association has put together. They will have a tech panel that will review all the skaters and they will also have a full judging panel that will evaluate the performances as well. Its unchartered territory really, for everyone, including the officials. The skaters are still performers and they always feed off the audience and that was all missing while making the video. As a coach, you have to help them to use internal motivation for these virtual performances. So, it is new and different and difficult for everyone. Dinh had an amazing skate and I couldn’t have asked for anything more.” Goldstein says.

Qualifiers for the 2021 Nationals are Announced

US Figure skating contacted athletes with their decisions last week, just in time for the holidays. Both Tran and Wang qualified for the 2021 US Figure Skating National Championships (Nationals). Tran will compete in the Senior Men division, Wang in Junior Women.

When asked how he was feeling about the upcoming competition, Tran replied with the confidence of an experienced skater, the optimism of a young athlete and the spirit of a true competitor. “These programs are designed to be performed for people so that will be different this year. You just have to trust in your training and never give up because if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.”
Tran’s coach is equally pleased, “I am so proud of Dinh for having scored his own personal best and highest marks ever at this last qualifying competition for Nationals at the Senior Men Olympic level. At the actual National Championships, he will now be able to perform 'in person', for all the officials. However, the only audience that will witness his performance will be large cardboard cutouts occupying some of the arena seats in Las Vegas", Goldstein continues, "I am confident that Dinh will adjust perfectly and he will use his mental fortitude and athletic strengths to adapt to it all, he is just awesome!”
Kate Wang’s mom, Yanan, says, “Kate is very excited and looking forward to seeing her skater friends in Las Vegas.” Kate has been training at a rink in San Mateo county with her coach and working off ice with her personal trainer as she continues to prepare for Nationals, just weeks from now.
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November 20, 2020, San Francisco, CA – Wang gets post training notes from her coach Jeff Crandell. Photo Credit: Johanna Miyaki

The Journey Continues

Nationals is just one of many stops for Tran and Wang on the road that could take them to the Olympic Winter Games in 2022. This endeavor for athletes is challenging under any circumstances. First, they must qualify and finish in the top tier at the US Championships to be eligible to qualify for the World Championships where they must be a top finisher in order make Team USA and compete at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Aside from any complications arising from the current pandemic, the 2022 Olympic Winter Games are also facing a great deal of controversy over the host country, China. More than 160 human-rights organizations have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to withdraw the games from Beijing. As international calls to boycott the Beijing 2022 XXIV Olympic Winter Games grow stronger, it remains to be seen if the IOC will continue to defend the choice to allow China to host the games citing their commitment to the separation between sport and politics. Critics of this decision say It also say stripping Beijing of the Games would fulfill the Committee’s duty to “abide by the Olympic Charter’s core principles about ‘human dignity.”

I will continue to follow Dinh and Kate for what is sure to be a dynamic and exciting 2021 skating season, you are invited to join me.

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Covering news and telling stories from beautiful San Francisco and beyond if the story takes me there! More than Human Interest stories, I will share stories about Interesting Humans. Not just Breaking News but news that matters to you, to the local community and the world we share. Follow me here on News Break! ~ Johanna Miyaki

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