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Little-known Max Aaron steals show with dynamic effort

OMAHA, Neb. — Never mess with the guy who knows how to rumble.

Little-known Max Aaron won his first title at the US Figure Skating Championships on Sunday and helped knock down three-time champion Jeremy Abbott to the last step on the podium. With two quadruple jumps and an arsenal’s worth of other tricks in his ‘‘West Side Story’’ program, don’t count the 20-year-old upstart out at the world championships in March, either.

‘‘I kind of thought in the back of my mind he could be the national champion,’’ coach Tom Zakrajsek said. ‘‘There are so many great men and you never know how they’re going to skate or how it’s going to be judged. I did think he gave a performance today — when you give a performance like that, it’s worthy of a national title.


‘‘He skated into the title, which is kind of a nice way to earn it.’’

Aaron screamed and shook his fists when he finished his program, then slid across the ice giving a Tiger Woods-like fist pump.

‘‘The goals I had coming into this event were just to complete two clean programs. I didn’t think of ever medaling,’’ Aaron said. ‘‘But I knew if I completed the programs the way I know I can do them, I knew I could be up there.’’

When his marks were posted, Aaron’s jaw dropped and the audience roared. He won the free skate in a rout to jump from fourth to first, and finished with 255 points overall, almost four better than Ross Miner of Watertown, Mass., and the Skating Club of Boston.

Abbott, who had won three of the last four US titles, dropped to third after a flawed free skate. The Americans can only send two men to the world championships, so Abbott will have to watch and hope Aaron and Miner do well enough to get an extra spot for the Sochi Olympics.


Aaron was the US junior champ two years ago, but has done little of note since then. He actually considered quitting skating last summer after he finished eighth at nationals.

Skating first of the top men, however, he wasted no time letting everyone know he’s got the makings of a champion. He opened with two quadruple salchows, the first in combination with a double toe loop, and did seven triples. Aside from a small turn out on a triple axel, his jumps were done with such great speed and flow people watching at home on their couches were probably saying, ‘‘That doesn’t look so hard, I could do that.’’

Aaron is more than just a jumping bean, however. His spins were excellent, so fast and tightly centered he was practically a blur. He jazzed up his footwork with high kicks and hops, the kind of flourishes audiences — and judges — love.

‘‘This wasn’t just a performance that happened. This is how he trains,’’ Zakrajsek said. ‘‘Our big goal was just to deliver what he trained and see how he fit in.’’

Aaron’s big score in the free skate — 175.87 — was going to be tough for Abbott, Miner, and the rest of the guys to top. No one came close.

Miner, who was born in Williston, Vt., has quietly developed into one of the most reliable US men, finishing third at the previous two nationals and winning a bronze at this year’s NHK Trophy. That’s bolstered his confidence, and he’s skating with more polish and assertiveness than ever before. Every element in his program, to the old ‘‘Captain Blood’’ movie, was finished to perfection. There was no rushing out of jumps or awkward ends to spins.


He, too, did a quad salchow — a gorgeous one, to boot — and seven other triple jumps. His only flaw was singling an axel, a silly mistake that’s sure to nag at him until next year’s nationals.

‘‘The single axel is not what I was looking for, but I’m happy I kept my head in it and fought all the way to the end,’’ Miner said. ‘‘It was a good day.’’