San Jose Mercury News
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dinh Tran is used to taking a different track to figure skating stardom.

So, he just shrugged after heading to a Caltrain station Monday after a stirring performance to place second in the junior men's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose.

Tran, 16, followed Richmond Alysa Liu's powerful performance a night earlier as young Bay Area skaters have left local audiences spellbound in the championships that heat up Wednesday at SAP Center with seniors competing for berths to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Tran, of San Francisco, finished with 67.28 points, just .60 of a point behind favorite Camden Pulkinen of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Mimi Hoang and her son got a ride to Solar4America Ice on Monday morning from the skater's sponsor, who has requested to remain anonymous. But they had no way to get home afterward.

Hoang, who has raised four boys in a Tenderloin studio apartment, doesn't own a car. Mom and son hitched a ride to Belmont with coach Jeffrey Crandell. Then they took the train the rest of the way.

They had plenty to celebrate after the teen landed his first triple axel in competition.

"He made me cry," Hoang said.

Tran matched Pulkinen's technical program but judges deducted points on the second part of a planned triple flip-triple toe loop combination jump.

Stepping out of the toe loop left Tran briefly flustered as he also lost points on his change foot camel spin.

But then he let it go.

"Even though you mess up you just keep going," said Tran, a sophomore at Stuart Hall college prep.

Skating to "Exogenesis: Symphony Part 1" by Muse the teen then landed his big axel jump and ended with a triple lutz to pile up the points.

Plus, the skater knew what his mom had told him all week: "If you fall, you need to stand up and show what you can do."

Crandell felt good after the six-minute warm-ups when Tran executed the triple axel he has practiced over and over for the past half year.

"Your job is done here," the coach told him.

He meant for the day. Coach and skater know everything now is focused on the free skate Wednesday at SAP Center. Tran knows one good showing isn't enough to earn a medal. After all, he's had good short programs in the past and then faltered in the 4-plus-minute free skate.

"I've celebrated too much" in the past, Tran said. "I know this is not over.

Crandell has worked with his skater on staying within the moment to execute two strong performances.

Pulkinen was expected to run away with the 2018 title after finishing second at the Junior Grand Prix final last month in Japan. But like Tran, he flubbed his combination jump and camel spin. But Pulkinen took the lead on the strength of a triple axel that almost earned the maximum possible of extra points while skating to music from Coldplay.

The junior competition opened up this year because Alex Krasnozhon, winner of the Junior Grand Prix final, is making his senior-level debut Thursday in the men's short program.

Still, it's a reminder of how deep American men are for the coming years.

The best is Nathan Chen, who is just 18, while and big jumper Vincent Zhou of Palo Alto is 17.

"I'm taken aback that Nathan and Vincent are my age doing what they do," said Luke Ferrante, 17, who was seventh Monday.

Tran doesn't worry about those ahead of him. He plans to compete as a junior next season as well.

If he continues to improve, perhaps he'll be in the mix for the 2020 Olympics in Beijing.