Medal Musings: Tri-State skater finds success in Switzerland
One of the highlights of the recent European Figure Skating Championships was a ladies skater representing Switzerland who is showing a ton of promise heading into next month’s Olympic Games. But that very same skater was fighting for the U.S. junior title at this time last year.
Greenwich, Conn. born and Harrison, NY raised Alexia Paganini surprised many in the skating world by finishing seventh at last week’s event featuring the best skaters from all of Europe, one of the last championship events prior to the PyeongChang Games. Last year, Paganini was just fifth on the junior level at last year’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and faced a crossroads in her skating career.
With parents from Switzerland and the Netherlands Paganini had an intriguing option. She could continue skating in the United States’ system, or she could represent one of her parents’ home countries.
It’s a competition just to get international assignments for the U.S., especially on the junior level. Though U.S. figure skating has had its difficulties on the ladies side for a while, there is a young crop coming up who could very well bring Americans back onto international medal stands regularly. U.S. Figure Skating’s decision makers want to get as many of them as possible international experience on the junior level to best prepare them for the future. Thus, Paganini was up against many for plum preparatory spots in competitions across the globe.
Paganini was moderately successful in the junior international competitions she represented the U.S. in. But after last year’s U.S. Championships, she made the decision to represent her father’s home country internationally, which put her career on the fast track.
Paganini continued to train in Hackensack, NJ, with coaches Igor Krokavec and Craig Maurizi (who once coached Olympic gold medalist-turned-NBC commentator Tara Lipinski.) In late September, she entered the Nebelhorn Trophy, a last-chance competition for countries who had not yet secured figure skating entries in the Olympics. Paganini finished third, clinching Switzerland a coveted spot in the ladies competition. A few months later, she captured the Swiss ladies championship, ensuring she would be the skater sent to the Olympics.
And then two weekends ago, Paganini served notice to her competitors that she is on the rise. Her clean short program, complete with a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, earned her ninth place after the first phase of competition. In her Phantom of the Opera long program, she struggled on her opening triple Lutz, landing low, but continued on to hit four triple jumps and earned high levels on her spins. Although she popped two jumps at the end of her program, it was still a strong enough performance to outperform skaters who have significantly more international experience and move her up to seventh overall.
The competition will be even tougher in PyeongChang when the ladies figure skating competition starts up February 20th. While Paganini may have faced a tough Russian contingent at the European Championships, she will see both them and the standout Japanese and Canadian rosters at the Olympics. But at this point in her career, Paganini is looking more for the Olympic experience than a medal.
Switching countries might have been a risk for Paganini, but it was one worth taking. It lifted the Tri-State skater from fighting for attention stateside to marching in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.