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Reflecting on Worlds: Max's Black Swan Rises

  • Reflecting on Worlds: Max's Black Swan Rises

    Max Aaron of the United States performs during the Men's Free Skating Program at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, April 1, 2016. / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

At first glance, this might seem an odd choice to reflect upon. Max Aaron finished eighth at Worlds, and the US men failed to retain the three spots. (More on that, later.) So why choose this skate, this performance?

The answer is simply: because he is a favourite of mine.

When I began planning my great trip to Worlds, I nursed a tender hope in my heart that, by luck, I might get the chance to see all of my favourite skaters in action. With Australia being so remote, and trips to competitions being so expensive, the thought that this might be my only chance to see them was stuck firmly in the back of my head.

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As the season went on, my favourites began to drop like flies - first Joshua and the concussion, Jason and his back, Liza and her dip in form, Artur and his retirement. But through it all, one of my favourites was quietly making sure he could not be left at home - Max, winning a Grand Prix, winning Senior Bs, shoring up his position on that Worlds team. And even though he was not given the National title he so richly deserved, I still knew that I would see him at Worlds.

How I daydreamed about it, in the months between US Nationals and my departure! What would it be like, to see him live, to see him perform at his best, to see him bring the house down as I knew he could?  What would it be like, to take the Black Swan that I had only ever seen in videos and translate it onto the ice on the biggest stage of the year?

When all was said and done, I was not disappointed; my daydreams had hardly come close to reality.

Max was eighth after the short program, a short program in which his only mistake had been a hand down on the quad Salchow (whereupon he abandoned the planned combination and hastily improvised a triple Lutz-triple toe combination at the end).

When he took centre ice for the free skate, it was at the end of a difficult week, one which had seen him struggle with the quad Salchow both in practice and in the short. Not once had I seen him hit his signature combination, the quad Salchow triple toe, though he had come close a couple of times. It made what happened next all the more magical.

The music began, and he rapidly built the speed he is so famous for. And then, with all the ease of breathing, as though it had never been a problem, he launched into a wonderful quadruple Salchow triple toe. It was followed by one of his monster triple Axels, to which he added a double toe, then a triple loop that was so good it almost looked like a double.

It was obvious that he had come to lay it down, and the beginning of his slower section, containing two spins and a footwork sequence, almost came as a relief, a moment for the crowd to catch its breath. The flying combination spin was done well, his improvement evident for all to see, and then as the music rose into the dramatic, iconic Swan Lake piece, his step sequence began.

All this was done in a sleek, black costume - black leggings and a black shirt with a flared waist that flapped as he moved, giving the illusion of feathers. It looked spectacular as he flew into the flying sit spin - and then the arena held its breath...

Would he hit the second quad Salchow? As he came flying towards my corner, at top speed, I felt suddenly at ease. Of course he would. And he did, hitting it perfectly, a smile of his own slipping out on the landing. Now he was there; now, Max was bringing it home.

Another huge triple Axel followed, one of the biggest we would see all night. And then came a combination that, quite possibly, even outshone his stunning start: a triple Lutz, half loop, triple Salchow combination that, while not unique in itself, he made so by virtue of the fact that it flew nearly a third of the way down the rink by itself. Enormous, fast, and easy, like all his jumps.

It was almost a shock, then, to see a double Axel, but it was planned, and in fact, choreographically it worked, because it brought the tone down to the lighter, more delicate choreographic sequence. The look of intense passion on Max's face was captivating. He was living every moment of this skate, absorbing the cheers of the crowd.

As he finished the choreographed sequence, with a lovely stag jump, the music began to swell to its famous conclusion, and he took off again...one more jump...and it was a double Axel that was so big with excitement he lost control of it, stepping out. But he didn't let the mistake stop him - Max moved straight into the excellent combination spin to finish, and as he struck the final pose, the smile on his face said it all. It was probably the best free skate he'd ever done, and he knew it, and the crowd knew it.

Sadly, the judges did not reward such brilliance as well as they might have done, while perhaps, over-rewarding others. Max would finish eighth overall. But for me, nothing could take the shine off that day, that magic, wonderful moment - that I saw a skater I adored so much skate like that.

Thankyou, Max.

You can share Max's magic moment with me here.

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