Taylor-Made Trip Out West

 Jamestown Skating Academy’s Taylor Firth, seen performing in the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash., on Thursday, finished 14th overall after placing 11th in the long program on Saturday.

AP photo

1/28/2007 - Firth Places 11th In Long Program, 14th Overall


SPOKANE, Wash. — The atmosphere was electric in the Spokane Arena as a capacity crowd filed in late Saturday morning for the premier event, the Senior Ladies final. The lines for the latte vendor alone snaked far down the corridor in this state that runs on premium coffee.

After the Zamboni left a shimmering, smooth surface, it was cue the national anthem; introduce the technical specialists and national- and international-level judges; and call out the first flight of five skaters, who flew onto the ice like thoroughbred horses champing at the bit.

One of those five — five of the 21 best Senior Ladies’ competitors in the country — was Taylor Firth of the Jamestown Skating Academy, wearing a black warm-up jacket over her sequined dress of pale seafoam green, with a matching ribbon in her flying ponytail.

Taylor confidently and methodically warmed up her layback spin, elegant spirals, and jump combinations, missing nothing while others around her had less luck or less concentration. Then she retreated backstage to wait for the first and second skaters to have their moments at center ice.

Megan Williams-Stewart, an experienced skater making her fourth trip to U.S. nationals, performed first and received marks sufficient for an overall total of 128.14. She would take the lead and keep it for over an hour. The second competitor had less good fortune.

As soon as Ambar Kaiser left the ice, Taylor took off her skate guards and stroked around the ice with a look of intense concentration while stuffed mascot bears, gifts for Kaiser, plunked onto the ice from high and low in the stands.

With ‘‘How about a warm Spokane welcome for Taylor Firth?’’ the 15-year-old glided to her opening position to perform to beautifully lyrical cuts of The Mission played by Yo Yo Ma.

She opened with a big triple flip-double toe loop jump combination, then executed a spiral into a triple flip, followed by triple Salchow-double toe, a spin combination, and a layback. Although she appeared slightly cautious, she was light on her feet and clearly felt the delicate choreography.

Taylor’s next planned move was a triple toe-triple toe, but she doubled the first of the two jumps. Rather than give up, though, she summoned the strength to rev right into the second triple.

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‘‘We trained doing a triple-triple,’’ she explained later. ‘‘For me, I like to jump; I like to do triples. I really wanted to do (the second triple) after I missed the first one. I actually forced myself to do the second one. Usually if I pop the first one, then I’ll double the second one, but I really wanted to do the triple.’’

Everything from the following double Axel on to the end of the program received extra credit due to the difficulty of performing elements after the half-point. There was a flying sit spin; a straight line step sequence, to warm applause; a double loop (meant to be a triple); a fall on a triple Salchow; a spiral sequence — more applause; a solid double Axel; and a final spin combination.

The judges awarded marks of 44.46 for elements, 38.38 for program components, 81.84 for the long program segment, and 125.09 for the combined Short Program and Free Skating segments.

Taylor remained in second place until 10 skaters had performed: the entire first and second flights. She was eventually overtaken by Megan Oster, a seasoned Junior Grand Prix competitor and former Junior bronze medalist, making her fifth consecutive trip to the national championships in various divisions. By the end of the Free Skate, Taylor found herself in 11th place, which bumped her up to 14th overall.

Taylor competed in 2004 at the U.S. Junior Nationals as an Intermediate, but had never before qualified for ‘‘Big Nationals.’’

She later commented, ‘‘I was really, really, really nervous, but it was good. I’m happy with how I skated. I was nervous, but calm at the same time, so it’s sort of like an oxymoron. It was a little bit easier today, just because I got the first one (the Short Program event) out of the way. My long today was a little easier. You get the energy from the crowd, so that was really good. My program felt like it went by really fast.’’

ESPN had broadcast the Short Program event, so Taylor was basking in national exposure.

‘‘I talked to my sisters. I talked to a lot of my friends back home. They were excited to see me. I was glad that my sisters got to watch it, because they were so upset that they couldn’t come to Spokane.’’

Dick Button and Peggy Fleming had provided the commentary on Taylor’s Short Program.

‘‘I bobbled on a few of my jumps, so they commented on that; but other than that, I guess they were really positive.’’

Said happy Coach Lenel van den Berg, ‘‘It was really fun today. Taylor was nervous, but she was determined to do a good program. And she went and did that. When a kid can do that — go out there and focus and do what they want to do — that means a lot. Her first time at Nationals, I think she’s just been fabulous.’’

Added Coach Kirk Wyse, ‘‘We just think it’s a huge step forward in her career. She’s got one under her belt now. It was a wonderful week for her, and for us as her coaches. I have to say that for the first time in our careers, 10 years at Senior Nationals, we enjoyed every minute of it.’’