Spoke with Shelley figure skater Mathew Graham about his sixth place finish at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships over the weekend. He didn’t get a medal, but the top-six placement landed him another milestone for what he has described as a breakthrough season.
The Medal Stand: Graham ends breakthrough season at nationals
Mathew Graham mingled and shared the ice rink at Kansas City’s Sprint Center with the big names last week, and he showed that he belonged there.
The 2016 Shelley High School graduate concluded a self-described breakthrough season with sixth place in the junior men’s division ofthe U.S. Figure Skating Championships, ending his first nationals appearance in four years with a cumulative score of 158.96.
Although he did not make the podium, Graham qualified for the U.S. envelope by placing in the top six. This means he will be in consideration for the U.S. team at international competitions. The top four novices, the top six juniors and top 10 to 12 seniors qualify for the U.S. envelope.
“I think that I kinda am still letting it sink in a little bit,” Graham said in a Tuesday phone interview with the Post Register. “I’m not going to let this qualifying for the U.S envelope get me carried away. I’m just gonna continue to try and impress U.S Figure Skating and see where it takes me.”
Graham was last to take the ice in Wednesday’s short program, placing sixth with a score of 54.57. He put a hand down on the ice during the program, an error that cost him points.
Friday’s free skate began better than the short program, but he said nerves caught up to him again.
“I was definitely feeling a little bit of pressure,” Graham said. “I felt very tight.”
On and off the ice in Kansas City, Graham had several ‘big-time’ moments. He shared the ice in warm ups with the senior skaters,including eventual 17 year-old senior men’s champion Nathan Chen, and witnessed commentators/Olympians Johnny Weir and Tara Lapinksi conducting interviews with skaters. He also had the opportunity to watch the senior men’s short program, senior women’s short program and senior pairs free skate.
“Back stage walking through the venue, you would pass by these huge names,” Graham said. “It was definitely super cool. This is my ninth month of this level of competing and I was glad I was able to finish it off with this type of experience. It’s inspiring watching them.This sounds so cliche but it’s so true.”
Graham is now spending time in Shelley with his parents, Mark and Genny, who traveled with him to Kansas City to watch him compete. He is taking a two-week break from skating, lightheartedly adding that he won’t even be stepping into a rink during the break.
Within the past year, he spent the summer training and performing in ice shows at Sun Valley, made the decision to postpone college and train full time, moved to Ogden to be closer to his coaches and began life on his own. Along the way, he placed second at the invite-only U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate and won the junior men’s title at the Northwest Pacific Regional Championships before qualifying for nationals by placing second at the Pacific Coast Sectional Figure Skating Championships in November. He plans to remain at the junior level for another year before moving up to senior and take the time to master the triple axel and start working on a quad jump, which has become a mainstay for senior level competition.
He’s gone from making weekly — and sometimes biweekly — commutes to Ogden or Sun Valley from Shelley to get more ice time to training 20 hours per week, and he feels gratified.
“I wanted to sort of break through. I really feel like I did that,” Graham said. “I met every goal I had this season. I feel like that’s a huge accomplishment. It was a very stressful year, even stepping away from skating. There were points I was very, very unsure of certain things and certain decisions. I want to be like one of the top skaters in the U.S. I feel like that’s what I’m most proud of.”