While many of their peers enjoy a trip to the mall or are catching the latest holiday movie, eight Utah figure skaters patiently spent hours each day practicing their routines for the United States Figure Skating Championships in Omaha, Neb., happening now.
Led by 16-year-old Angela Wang of Salt Lake City, who will compete at the top level in the senior ladies, the eight Utahns who made it to the nationals represent what is probably the best showing ever for area figure skaters.
The skaters include Kendrick Weston of West Jordan and Amalia Friess of Layton, who will compete in the juvenile divisions; Mitchell Friess of Layton, Justin Ly of Salt Lake City, Anna Grace Davidson of Salt Lake City and Hina Ueno of Murray in the intermediate divisions; and Nathan Chen of Salt Lake City, who will compete in the junior men's division.
Bob Weston, president of Salt Lake Figure Skating, said the skaters must finish in the top four in regional competition to qualify for sectionals. The top four from sectionals move on to the nationals, which are being held Jan. 20-27 in Omaha this year.
Weston credits facilities built for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics as providing a legacy that allows skaters to advance into national tournaments.
Though she admits to trying not to think about representing the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Angela Wang has qualified for the World Junior Grand Prix final in Sochi this year and has a shot at making the U.S. team.
"I haven't thought about it too much," said Angela, who is living with her mom and dog in Colorado Springs these days to be closer to her coaches, about her Olympic chances. "That is too much pressure. I am trying to do well this year."
Angela began skating when she was 5 and began training with the Salt Lake Figure Skating Club. She said she enjoys being around great people and being alone in the rink.
"It's just the awesome feeling you get when everybody is watching you and you are the only person the ice," she said. "This year, I am trying to keep the whole program exciting. … I want to keep the audience on the edge of their seats the entire time."
Thirteen-year-old Nathan Chen, who is now training in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., attempted to defend a national championship he won last year. He finished second in this year's sectionals. He took third place in the national competition this year.
"I enjoy the spins, the jumps and the freeness of skating," said the Salt Lake City native, who began skating 10 years ago. "Definitely the goal and the idea for me is to go to the Olympics. It's occasionally hard training away from home but, overall, it's not too bad."
Weston said there are 25 skating qualifying levels, from "snowplow Sam" to seniors. Skaters must pass tests to advance to the next level. That's how they reach the qualifying level, where they can then compete for a national title in juvenile, intermediate, novice, junior and senior divisions.
Weston's 12-year-old son, Kendrick, is among those competing for a national title in Omaha.
He has been skating since he was 3.
"I went to the [Kearns] oval, and my dad took me there," said Kendrick, who finished second in sectionals and third in regionals. "My dad took me there and I started doing learn to skate. I liked it. It's fun, but sometimes it can be frustrating."
Amalia Friess, 12, and her brother Mitchell, 15, skate at the Ogden Ice Sheet for the Wasatch Figure Skating Club. They both live in Layton.
Mitchell has been skating for 10 years.
"I started mostly because my grandmother liked to watch it on television," said Mitchell, who will compete in the intermediate men national championship after finishing first in regionals and sectionals. "I decided I wanted to do that. So my mom put me and my sister in learn-to-skate lessons. When I started, I thought of this as something fun to do. I never thought of it as something serious. … I don't have anything that is really special, although I am more flexible than most boys, so that does stand out in competition."
Amalia has been skating nine years and, like most of these skaters, trains at least two hours a day, six days a week. She finished second in the regionals and fourth in the sectionals.
Justin Ly, a 15-year-old Highland High student, will compete in the intermediate men competition. He finished third in the sectionals, where he landed a clean double axel in competition, finishing first in free skate and third overall.
"I enjoy how free I feel," he said about why he enjoys skating. "When I get on the ice, I can forget everything else. It just feels good."
Anna Grace Davidson, from Holladay, placed second in the regionals and first in the sectionals to qualify for the intermediate ladies national title run. She has been skating since she was 2, deciding to be a "rink rat" after watching her sister be a figure skater and a brother who was a hockey player.
"I like gliding across the ice and accomplishing things," she said.
Hina Ueno, a 12-year-old Orem skater who competes for the Murray Silver Blades, will also be in the intermediate ladies national title hunt. She placed third at regionals and second at the sectionals. Her signature move is the back Biellmann, something few skaters try.
"I started when I was 7," she said. "We just got to the rink, I tried to learn to skate and I kind of liked it. I like watching the hard work pay off at competition."
All of these skaters work extremely hard, a fact they hope will lead them to national championships in late January.
Twitter: @tribtomwharton Utah Qualifiers
U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Jan. 20-27 in Omaha, Neb.
Senior Ladies • Angela Wang, 16, Salt Lake City
Junior Men • Nathan Chen, 13, Salt Lake City
Intermediate Ladies • Anna Grace Davidson, 12, Holladay
Intermediate Ladies • Hina Ueno, 12, Orem
Intermediate Men • Justin Ly, 15, Salt Lake City
Intermediate Men • Mitchell Friess, 15, Layton
Juvenile Girls • Amalia Friess, 12, Layton
Juvenile boys • Kendrick Weston, 12, West Jordan