By Gina Capellazzi, Figure Skaters Online website administrator
Skating photos by Robin Ritoss and FS_Evolution
Two-time Canadian Champion Nam Nguyen is no stranger to the Grand Prix Series. The 2019-2020 Grand Prix Series will mark the 21-year-old’s sixth season on the circuit. Yet, despite that familiarity with the Grand Prix Series, Nguyen has only won a bronze medal at Skate America in 2014, which was his senior Grand Prix debut.
Nguyen is hoping to add some more hardware this week when he kicks off his Grand Prix Series, competing at his home country’s event, Skate Canada International, in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Figure Skaters Online’s Gina Capellazzi spoke one-on-one with Nguyen by phone after a training season Oct. 9. He spoke about overcoming a disappointing short program in his season opening competition, goals for the Grand Prix season and Canadian Nationals, and his thoughts on the Canadian men’s field.
Figure Skaters Online: You kicked off your 2019-2020 season with the ISU Challenger Nebelhorn Trophy. You had a disappointing short program, finishing in 9th place. What happened?
Nam Nguyen: “I was extremely disappointed with the way it went. To be honest with you, I saw it coming the moment I woke up the day of the short because I wasn’t feeling right, everything felt off, my energy was very low. Physically and mentally, I wasn’t feeling well on that day. So unfortunately that happened.”
FSO: Were you sick at Nebelhorn?
Nam: “The week before the event I came down with a pretty nasty cold and I missed two or three days of training that week. So I was really trying to do some intense recovery from that and I think once you come back from a sickness, your rhythm gets thrown off and that is what I found the week of Nebelhorn. I was trying really hard to fight, but unfortunately when the day of the short came around, I was just too exhausted to keep up the fighting energy.”
FSO: What did you do to re-focus after your short program to skate well and finish second in the free skate and fourth overall?
Nam: “After my short program, my coach [Robert Burke] and I decided to kind of change some of the elements in my program and I think from there, I found this confidence. When I woke up for the day of the long, I felt like I had a job to do and everything was great. Practice was strong. I was aggressive and I kind of just went out there and did my job. The performance of the long wasn’t what I was hoping for, although at that point, it was pretty early in the season for me so it was kind of good to get that out of the way and find a starting point really for the season. In terms of placement, I really don’t think too much about it because after the short I was pretty far down. I was kind of impressed with, placement wise, the amount of places I jumped from the short to free, but other than that, I don’t really have much thoughts on it.”
FSO: You mentioned that you and your coach, Robert Burke, switched up your elements in the free skate before you competed it, what exactly did you switch up?
Nam: “We took out the quad toe just because I wasn’t feeling good with that jump for a couple of weeks. We just kind of wanted to put out a solid skate for my confidence in the long run. That’s exactly what we did. I was able to put out a half solid long program. There were a couple of elements that were pretty shaky, but in terms of getting through it, I was pretty pleased with that. Quad Salchow has always been my favorite jump so we put two in. The first one went real nice. The second one I kind of just sat down on it. That was more of a shock. The take off and everything felt great, but as soon as I came down, I slipped off my edge. Other than that, I’m feeling really good with that program.”
FSO: Did you have time to explore Obertsdorf, Germany while you were there?
Nam: “The schedule was kind of nice because we started early and we were the first event to finish that week so we had the end of Friday and Saturday to explore. Kirsten [Moore-Towers], Michael Marinaro and myself went to the top of the mountain to check out the view, which was pretty cool. Other than that, I really didn’t do much sightseeing.”
FSO: What have you been working on specifically since you returned home from Oberstdorf?
Nam: “We have really been working on the conditioning and cardio, trying to really push everything, like give it my all to the very end of the program. I really think with the opening it is kind of easy to get through, but then once I’m at that halfway point, it starts to get really hard for me. We have just been really trying to push everything. We have done a lot of jump circuit, build up the stamina for jumping. I think what is most important is being able to get through the program tired, but also while tired you have to give 100%. Obviously, you can train so much but you will never be able to feel like you are super fresh for the full four minutes of the long program.”
FSO: Talk about your programs this season. Did you pick your own music? Who choreographed your programs?
Nam: “I picked out my own pieces again this year, similar to what I did last year. This time around, it really wasn’t much of a process as it was last year where I kind of spent a really long time listening to pieces over and over. This year, I had a general idea of what I wanted to do. In terms of choreographers, Mary Angela Larmer choreographed my short [“Blues for Klook” by Eddy Louiss] and Danielle Rose and Kurt Browning choreographed my long [Beatles Medley: “Come Together”, “Let It Be” and “Get Back”].”
FSO: What was it liked to work with Kurt, Danielle and Mary Angela?
Nam: “I worked with Kurt a couple of times so I know what he is like. It is my first time working with Danielle Rose even though she is like my second coach at the rink every day. We never had the opportunity to work together in terms of choreography. Mary has choreographed a couple of my show programs, one which I used for Stars on Ice this year so I have a general understanding of what she is like. It was a great process for sure when we were all working together to create these programs.”
FSO: What are your goals both technically and artistically this season?
Nam: “Technically, I want to add that quad toe into my program. Right now, I kind of took a break from that jump because, mentally, it still kind of freaks me out a little bit. So far, since my break, I restarted working on it and it is going really well. So I think maybe after Skate Canada, we will think about putting it back into the programs. I’m also working on quad loop, just cause you know for fun, why not. (laughs). Artistically, I really want to be able to show the judges and the audience a difference in my skating. It has been a little bit hard for me to be able to do that. I think now, especially the time from Nebelhorn to Skate Canada, is the perfect time to really push the skating, especially in between my jumps and my spins, and to kind of reach out more and have better skating skills and transitions. It is definitely a long process, but I feel like we are on the right track.”
FSO: You have been working with Robert Burke for a couple of seasons now. What is your relationship like as coach and student? What kind of coach is he?
Nam: “Robert is like a second father to me. He knows me so well, better than I know myself. He really has something on me that helps me get through the day and week. He’s very organized, where as for me, I am not the most organized person so he understands when to push me and when to leave me alone to let me do my own thing.”
FSO: What is it like to be back training in the Toronto area? (Nguyen trains in Richmond Hills, 30 minutes north of Toronto)
Nam: “It is nice to be back home in Toronto training. I get to be with my family, where as when I was in California, I was all by myself, which wasn’t really fun. I was also young too, so I didn’t feel like I was ready back then. I have everything in Toronto so it works out perfectly. The vibe here is great. I mean the only thing that I miss about California is the nice weather that they have all-year round, but you win some, you lose some. (laughs).”
FSO: As the reigning Canadian national champion, you lead the field of Canadian men at Skate Canada. Do you feel any pressure and if so, how do you plan to not let the pressure impact your performances?
Nam: “There is no pressure in terms of being the leading Canadian man going into Skate Canada. For me, I think what is more on my mind is being able to put out two skates that I can be happy with. Luckily for me, I’m able to kind of zone out what other people are doing, like the status that I am in going into an event. So hopefully that should be able to take me out. I’m just more concerned with being able to stay locked during the week and being present with myself and my team and getting the job done as we approach the short program and long program.”
FSO: You had fifth place finishes at two previous Skate Canada International competitions. What will it take for you to get on the podium this time around?
Nam: “I don’t really know. I have only won a medal once in my Grand Prix career. To be honest with you, I really don’t know what it is going to take. It can go one way or the other. So for me, I think the best thing is kind of just focus on what I can control. I have obviously never finished on the podium very often in my career internationally so I’m not in really any position to say what is going to get me on [the podium]. I really hope that if I put out two clean performances with the majority of the levels and positive GOEs for every element I could have a shot at the podium. Again, I’m not really in that position to kind of make anything definite to finish on that podium. I just want to be happy with the performances I put out.
FSO: Have you looked at the field that you’ll be up against at Skate Canada?
Nam: “No, I’m just focusing on myself. As a young kid, I used to be obsessed with who was in my event, but now it is like I don’t really pay attention to it too much anymore. Obviously, I know Yuzuru Hanyu is doing Skate Canada because of the amount of hype there is around that, but other than that, I don’t know who else is competing there (in Kelowna). I guess I’ll see them for the first time when we get to the event. It will be a good time for sure.”
FSO: What is like to compete in front of a Canadian crowd?
Nam: “It is such a special feeling. Any opportunity that I can get to represent Canada internationally or at home, for me, it is a privilege and an honor. Definitely with the hometown advantage, it is going to be wild. Canadian fans are like next level. The support they give us is amazing. They are extremely knowledgeable. As I said, it is an absolute honor and privilege to be representing such a great nation and I’m really excited to be competing in Canada for sure.”
FSO: Have you started thinking about your second Grand Prix, Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, Russia, at all?
Nam: “Right now, we are just focusing on Skate Canada, but obviously, I know in the back of my mind there is still Russia to think about. Primarily, we are just looking on towards Skate Canada right now.
FSO: What are your goals for the Grand Prix Series? Obviously, making the Grand Prix Final is the ultimate goal, but what specifically are your goals for the series?
Nam: “It would be a dream to make the Grand Prix Final. I have never made it in my career. It would be nice to make it, but I think a more obtainable goal for myself would be to put out two performances that I’m happy with each outing I go to. I can’t really ask for anything else and those are the only things I control from my side.”
FSO: Turning to Canadian Nationals, you will enter the competition in January as the reigning champion. They say it is hard to defend your title. So what will you need to do to retain your title?
Nam: “I have to do my job. I have to keep it as simple as that. There are so many illusionary objects that come into your mind that prevent you from being able to believe in yourself when trying to defend a title. I have gone through that opportunity once [won first Canadian title in 2015] and I didn’t really live up to that. Obviously with the return of Patrick [Chan] back in 2016, that was a completely different story, but still, I put way too much pressure on myself and it was extremely unnecessary. This time around, my coach and I have devised a plan in terms of what to do when we are approaching Canadians so that is really important for us to kind of follow-up with and be organized the best that I can going into that event, for sure.”
FSO: You mention Patrick Chan, the most decorated male skater in Canadian history. What do you admire about Patrick and how has he influenced your skating?
Nam: “Patrick is one of biggest influences in my life for skating. I had the lucky opportunity to share the ice with him everyday for Stars on Ice earlier this year and I learned so much from him. He is such a nice guy. His skating is so beautiful and when you get to be on that same ice as him and feel that wind that he creates rushing by you, that’s a next level feeling that nobody else can replicate. I want to strive to have the skating style that he is known for. Obviously, I will never be able to obtain what he has created, but I hope to achieve a percentage of what he can do because that stuff is just unreal to watch. It is amazing.”
FSO: Speaking of Stars on Ice, how was performing in your first tour as a regular cast member this spring?
Nam: “It was such a great experience. It was a dream come true.”
FSO: What do you think of the Canadian men’s field? How do you think you stack up against the international field.
Nam: “As Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada High Performance Director, said we are, right now, as a nation are in the rebuilding phase. Now we are looking toward the next generation–that would include Stephen Gogolev, Conrad Orzel and Joseph Phan and a whole bunch of other strong junior men skaters, even novice skaters coming up. We also have a hand full of really solid senior skaters around too. So I think in terms of stacking up to the international field, I think we are doing quite well. Obviously, we miss the presence of Patrick [Chan] around, but I think we are doing well, holding our own. I think our job is to come and just do our best at every competition we go to and focus on nothing else. That’s our only job. So far we are doing okay with that. I know that as a whole, we could be a lot better. I think by the time we get to 2022 we will be stronger for sure.”
FSO: The Canadian men only have one spot for the World team, which unfortunately means only one man will be representing Canada at the World Championships in Montreal. How do you plan to maximize your chances to obtain that World team spot?
Nam: “I don’t think any of us have ever been in the position of fighting for one spot. Obviously with the Olympics when we had two, Patrick [Chan] occupied one and the other one was open. But I think this one is completely different just because we know the opportunity of representing Canada in Canada, that is a next level thing for all of us. I think it just comes down to whomever does their job the day of Nationals. I think that is what it boils down to. I can easily tell you right now that I can obviously go with a higher technical content, but that would mean for me that I would sacrifice my skating and my performance and that is something that I really don’t want to give up. So we are going to try to find a balance and be strategic going into Nationals that will give me the best shot at doing my job and hopefully guarantee me a spot to the World Championships in Montreal.”
FSO: How is school going?
Nam: “I’m at my second year at York University. I’m in the health studies program. Before I went to university, I took two years off to focus on skating, but I realized that is not a thing for me. So I’m back in school, trying to keep my life in balance. I’m part-time, because being a full-time student and trying to balance a full schedule of skating and working was kind of hard for me. Obviously, I know other skaters are doing a full-time school schedule and full-time skating. Respect to them because I wasn’t able to do that. You have to choose your battles. Definitely, education is very important!”
FSO: Do you know what you want to do once you graduate?
Nam: “I’m still not sure what I want to do when I graduate. That is still VERY undecided for me. Right now, it is kind of just more of maintaining a balance for me mentally. Once we approach the graduation point, that is when I’ll start to weigh out my options outside of skating.”
FSO: Some fun questions now–what has been your favorite place to visit?
Nam: “Japan. Hands down. It is such a beautiful country. Very clean. The people there are so nice and the food is just wow! (laughs)”
FSO: If you could take a lesson with any skater, past or present, who would it be and why?
Nam: “John Curry. I would love to have one lesson with John Curry. The person that introduced me to his skating was Lori Nichol back in 2013. She showed me a bunch of clips of him skating and ‘oh my gosh’. A professional that guy was. He knew what he was doing with his edges and weight placement. That is something that I really look up to. Unfortunately, he has moved on [ Curry passed away in 1994], but if I could go back in time, I would most definitely love to have the opportunity to work with Mr. Curry.”
FSO: Craziest thing you have ever done?
Nam: “I think the craziest thing I have ever done (and I don’t think it is crazy to other people, but for me it was) but at the Nebelhorn Trophy exhibition gala, during the finale, they call us out to do a trick. I really didn’t want to jump or spin or do anything, so I skated like I was going to do a back flip but instead of doing a back flip, I did a back somersault and I psyched everyone out. I thought it was pretty funny. In the process I bashed my left knee pretty good so that kind of hurt.
FSO: Which do you prefer– apple or pumpkin?
Nam: “Pumpkin for sure, but absolutely not pumpkin spice lattes. I had that once and I don’t understand why people drink it. It is disgusting. I like pumpkin soup. That is my thing. That pumpkin spice thing is not for me.”
FSO: You favorite Halloween costume?
Nam: I haven’t dressed up for Halloween since I was 7 because when I was 7 I dressed up as Spider-Man and Spider-Man is pretty jacked and he has pictorial muscles. I was self-conscious wearing that at school so I didn’t take my sweater off the entire day. So I think that kind of left an emotional scar on me, but I do enjoying seeing people dressed up. I would dress up myself, but it takes a lot of will-power on my end to go through that. Skate Canada is always around Halloween and I noticed that some of the fans dress up.