Like most skaters, Alex Johnson felt a little nervous as he took the ice for the men’s short program Friday. “Then once I saw all the familiar faces, I felt so comfortable,” the Minnetonka native said. “It was just really neat, like my skating career was coming full circle.”
Eight years after competing at the U.S. championships in his home state, Johnson, 25, got a chance to do it again. He scored 73.69 points for his performance at Xcel Energy Center, calling it the best short program he ever has done at the national championships. Johnson’s stylish routine to klezmer music drew a robust response and put him in seventh place.
Johnson lost some points when he fell on a triple lutz and landed slightly off-balance on a triple axel. That didn’t diminish his pride in the program, or his excitement about performing his “Eleanor Rigby” free skate Sunday as the competition concludes.
“It was awesome,” said Johnson, who now lives and trains in Colorado Springs. “The energy was very uplifting, and I feel like that helped me get through my performance.”
Homecoming, Part II
Mahtomedi native Daniel Kulenkamp got a jolt of adrenaline from the crowd, too — so much, in fact, that he had to take a moment to calm himself before his short program. Performing at a hometown nationals for the first time, Kulenkamp, 20, earned a score of 56.97 to land in 13th place.
He trained with the St. Paul Figure Skating Club before moving to Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2014 to attend Arizona State. He has continued to skate, with the goal of climbing the competitive ladder.
“It was absolutely amazing,” he said of Friday’s skate. “When I finished, I looked around and saw a stream of people running down the steps to throw stuffed animals on the ice. It’s absolutely incredible.”
Feeling the love
How did Mirai Nagasu manage to get through her short program Thursday on a torn skate boot? The 2008 U.S. champion credited the crowd at Xcel with a big assist.
Nagasu won her first and only national title at Xcel, when she was only 14. She warmly recalls the ovation she received then, and she was equally appreciative of the encore. The Xcel audience cheered Nagasu several times during Thursday’s performance, giving her a psychic boost that kept her focused despite her damaged boot.
“I definitely heard the audience’s support, and that’s really important to me,” said Nagasu, who is in fifth place entering Saturday’s free skate. “I’m so glad to be back. Even though it’s really cold here, I find the people are really warm. So I found it balances out very well.”
The junior division crowned its final champion Friday, as Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter won the ice dance title for the second consecutive year.
McNamara and Carpenter have excelled in international competition for the past three years, piling up gold and silver medals in the Junior Grand Prix ranks. Friday, they scored 170.04 points for their “Carmen” free dance to defend their U.S. title. Rachel and Michael Parsons — who train with McNamara and Carpenter in Rockville, Md. — earned 165.46 points, finishing as runners-up for the second year in a row.
Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit earned the bronze with a score of 155.94.