Zhou overcomes slippery start at NW Regional

The crowd gasped, but the figure skater continued through her routine.

It was an inauspicious start for Keli Zhou, who was forced to pick herself up off the ice after falling on her first jump.

But the 16-year-old from Portland rallied from the early miscue to score the most points in the short program of the senior ladies at the Pacific Northwest Regional Figure Skating Championships held at The RRRink on Friday.

"I usually can rebound back," Zhou said. "I got the other two jumps and my spins were good."

Zhou was penalized three points for the fall, but she made up for it in the rest of the performance. Zhou earned positive points from the panel of six judges in five of her seven other elements in the program, which lasted approximately 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

Zhou, who was awarded a score of 47.45, also had the highest average marks for all five of the program components — skating skills, transitions, performance/execution, choreography and interpretation. She has a lead of 7.4 points heading into tonight's final event — the 41/2-minute free skate, which will wrap up the day's competition.

"I don't usually think about the scores that much," said Zhou, whose level is the one seen at the Olympics.

"I just want to do my best and whatever happens, happens."

Olivia Olsen is in second place out of the four competitors, who will each advance to sectionals because three athletes dropped out for various reasons. Sectionals is the next step before nationals, which is the determining event for who will represent the United States at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

"There's no thought of failure," said Olsen, a 26-year-old who currently resides in Eugene. "I was really relaxed today and I knew I was well-trained, so I felt pretty confident going out there.

"So far I think this is the best I've competed all year."

Although all four skaters will move on to the next step, winning the regional title is still the goal for the ladies. While Zhou hasn't technically skated away with the championship, it is hers to lose. But that doesn't intimidate the teenager.

Zhou won the junior ladies title last season, placed fourth at sectionals and ended up with a 10th-place finish at Junior Nationals.

"I usually take one competition at a time," Zhou said. "Of course you have your long-term goals that you want to achieve. But right now, tomorrow is pretty much all I'm thinking about."

Michelle Murphy of Seattle is the frontrunner to follow in Zhou's footsteps. Murphy's score of 39.97 leads the junior ladies after the short program. However, there are six competitors within 10 points entering the free skate, which will decide the top-four finishers who advance to sectionals.

"It's a new day," Murphy said.

In one of the most competitive classes, Selena Zhao won a qualifying free skate in the intermediate ladies. The 25 skaters were put into two groups, with the top six in each advancing to a short program tonight and a free skate on Sunday.

The final transfer position in each group came down to less than one point, with three girls failing to advance by six-tenths of a point or less.

Medford resident Alexa Linden, the lone local skater in a qualifying event, didn't earn a transfer spot. Battling the flu, Linden missed advancing by a little less than 10 points.

"She didn't have enough energy to skate the program like she usually does," said Dennis Linden, Alexa's father, who said she woke up sick on Thursday morning.

Following the short program, Austin Hale is the leader of the intermediate men and Shayna Moellenberg is first in the novice ladies. Both groups will have a free skate today to determine the winners.

Today's competition begins with the juvenile girls at 9 a.m. Other scheduled start times include: juvenile boys at 11 a.m., novice ladies at 11:25 a.m., intermediate men at 4:35 p.m., intermediate ladies at 5 p.m., junior ladies at 6:30 p.m. and senior ladies at 8 p.m.

Reach reporter Shawn Miller at 776-4469, or e-mail smiller@mailtribune.com

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