JOY ON ICE: Anna Ngân first trained with a Korean partner, before she went solo last year. VNS Photos Đoàn Tùng
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Every Saturday, Anna goes to the ice rink early, 15 minutes or so before her lesson with her skating teacher. She gets warmed up by skating around and around the rink and then does some easy spins before the hard work begins with one of the few ice skating teachers in Hà Nội, Yulia Kupenko, 25, from Ukraine.
"Ngân, come here!" she turns to the young student, now taller than the teacher. “If you want to do beautiful arabesque, you need to straighten your legs, lift your eyes up and smile.”
Anna Ngô Hoàng Ngân, 13, remembers her first skating lesson during the summer when she was 10.
"I had to hold on to a large toy seal to keep myself from falling down. I was very scared, I was even scared of the teacher then," she says, smiling.
"My teacher told me to smile, but I was so scared, I held on to her arms really tight, I couldn't smile!" Ngân says. "I was hesitant at first, but my dad told me to try it, so I gave it a try. It hurt so much, my buttocks, from falling because I didn't know how to fall then."
"I remember her first lesson," says Kupenko. "Then she had to wear blue skating shoes like the other beginners."
From the second lesson on, the teacher put the toy seal away and Ngân had to stand on her own. From the third lesson or so, she could skate without falling, and started to enjoy herself.
MOMENTS OF JOY: Hard work, passion and confidence are what it takes to become a skater.
Hard work turns into passion
Now ice skating has become her passion.
"I don't want to miss any lesson and I enjoy my time on the ice," Ngân says.
It took her more than half a year to overcome her initial fear of the ice.
"At first I only skated for fun. It took me a really long time to do some easy spins for beginners," Ngân recalls.
"During the first six months, I only had one lesson a week. Then in summer, I had more time so I had a lesson every day for two hours with the teacher and I returned to the ice for another two hours and started to like it more when I made progress."
Kupenko has been impressed by Ngân's progress.
"In Europe, children usually start ice skating when they are four years old. Ngân studied with me when she was already 10, so it's quite late. But during the past three years, she has made progress others would need five to get to her level."
Coming to Việt Nam five years ago to teach ice skating, Kupenko now has 15 students and Ngân is her second best.
An average lesson comprises of learning new steps and then some spins to warm up for Ngân's jumps.
"I'm quite proud of my jumps. I can do an axel, salchow, loop, flip and lutz, and toe loop" she says.
The International Skating Union (ISU), which Việt Nam became part of by founding its own federation in November 2018, defines the toe loop jump as the simplest in figure skating.
Invented in 1920 by American skater Bruce Mapes, the toe loop jump is usually the first jump managed by beginners, which later leads to more difficult jumps.
The loop jump gets its name from the shape the blade would leave on ice if the skater performed the rotation without leaving the ice. But it's also the most fundamental of all the jumps.
"I can do more than 10 spins, I think," Ngân says, "I don't count."
According to the ISU, the flip jump is a "toe jump that takes off from a back inside edge and lands on the back outside edge of the opposite foot", The lutz jump is "the toe-pick assisted jump with an entrance from a back outside edge and landing on the back outside edge of the opposite foot."
The lutz takes its name from Alois Lutz from Vienna, Austria, who first performed it in 1913. It's the second-most difficult jump in figure skating and the second-most famous jump after the axel.
The salchow is an edge jump, named after its inventor Ulrich Salchow. It features a take-off from the back inside edge of one foot and a landing on the back outside of the opposite foot. This is usually the jump that skaters learn to double with critical timing between the jumps.
Figure skating's oldest and most difficult jump is the axel, named after its creator Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen.
In ISU competitions, it is required for skaters to take a double or triple axel in both the short programmes and free skating programmes for junior and senior single skaters.
It is often said that the extra half rotation of the axel makes a triple axel more a quadruple jump than a triple and "falling on the triple axel is really brutal" according to American skater Mirai Nagasu.
As of 2019, 11 women have successfully completed the triple axel in competition.
FUTURE STAR: Anna Ngân wins a gold medal from the 2019 Shining Stars on Ice in Hà Nội.
Dreams on ice
"My skating idol is Kamila Valieva from Russia. She's also my age, and one of two people our age in the world who can make the difficult jumps. Kamila makes the quadruple toe loop jump and Alysa Liu from the US makes quadruple lutz.
"I would love to meet Kamila because she's one of only two people in the world who can make the box jump. And Alysa Liu is very famous for her beautifully graceful spins," Ngân says.
Valieva is the 2019 Junior Grand Prix (JGP) Final champion and has the second-highest score of any junior lady: 221.95 points. At the 2019 JGP France, she became the second female skater (after Alexandra Trusova) to land the quadruple toe loop jump, winning the title.
Ngân has participated in only four championships, with mixed results.
"I fell down the day before my first competition and had a sprain in my foot two years ago when there wasn't a federation," she says.
"I didn't win any prizes, which made me cry a lot. I was very upset then, but I couldn't be sad for long because the next day was Christmas."
"She loved figure skating so much," her mother Nguyễn Thu Trang says referring to her not winning that year, "it hurt to see she's not that talented."
While talent is often natural, skill can be taught and now, Ngân practises for six hours every week, but it's still not enough for her teacher.
"I'd like to see her practise more, two hours each day, right? Ngân, would you want to become a professional skater?" asks Kupenko.
"I hope so," Ngân says after performing the jump she's most proud of.
I asked Kupenko what was the most important thing for a skater as we watched them practise after the last Shining Stars On Ice championship held by the Skating Federation of Việt Nam, which concluded on December 24 last year. Ngân won a gold medal at the three-day event.
"It's not being afraid," Kupenko says. "You need to be not afraid to perform in front of an audience, and not afraid to be alone on the ice."
"I think it's not being afraid of falling. A skater always has many injuries, but do not call it quits. If you fall, then stand up and complete your performance," Ngân says.
After learning new steps, Ngân says she rehearses the spins, then her old jumps in her repertoire for five more minutes and completes her lesson.
"Right now, I'm training for a championship this summer in Taiwan," she says. "Then again for the VSF championship this December again."
"Both of my parents support me in their own ways. My dad is always there with me on the rink, and my mum says, as long as I love it, I have to try and work hard on my own, which give me support and discipline."
"Dad calls me Ngân or Anna, and to my mum, I'm her Cotton Candy or Bông, my nickname in Vietnamese, which is also white as ice on the rink!" VNS