VICTORIA — Canada’s figure skating future might come in a four-foot-nine package.
Nam Nguyen, a 12-year-old from Richmond, B.C., defeated skaters seven years his senior — and some more than a foot taller — to capture the Canadian junior men’s figure skating title late Thursday night.
“I’m still trying to absorb that I’m the junior men’s champion,” Nguyen said Friday.
The four-foot-nine Nguyen was dwarfed when he stepped onto the podium to receive his medal, the tips of his spiked hair barely reaching the shoulders of silver medallist Shaquille Davis and third-place finisher Peter O’Brien. But beating bigger guys is something Nguyen is quickly becoming accustomed to.
“It’s not strange at all, I’ve been through that, it’s almost in every competition, second and third place, they’re taller than me. It’s quite funny,” Nguyen said. “I’m still trying to absorb that I’m the junior men’s champion.”
A line of fans snaked down the concourse of the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre on Friday, where Nguyen sat half-hidden behind a table, signing autographs in stylish glasses and a smart black suit.
Nguyen has become accustomed to the autograph requests, but said, “It makes me feed a little bit odd sort of, because you’re just writing your own name on paper for them.”
This isn’t Nguyen’s first time in the spotlight. He performed in the Gala — figure skating’s traditional wrap-up event — at the Vancouver Olympics, and was a huge hit.
There are sure to be many more spotlight moments to come. Nguyen isn’t old enough to perform internationally until he turns 13 on May 20, but has plans to hit the junior Grand Prix circuit next season. He’ll also compete as a senior next year’s Canadian championships against the likes of Patrick Chan.
Nguyen said he’s talked several times to Chan, the conversation usually turning to the smaller skater’s height.
“I’m up to his neck,” Nguyen said with a grin.
Nguyen is the son of Vietnamese immigrants Sony and Thu, who are both computer engineers. He started skating at the age of five and also played hockey briefly.
He’s won Canadian titles at the intermediate, pre-novice and novice levels, always competing in older age groups.
“My long-term goal is to represent Canada and compete at worlds and the Olympics, and my short-term goal is to be in the top five at senior nationals, and for the junior Grand Prix, I guess top five,” he said.
He’s just a quarter of a turn away from landing a triple Axel, a jump that still trips up Chan sometimes. His coach Joanne McLeod believes he’ll have the Axel down by the end of this summer. His next task will be learning the quad.
McLeod said Nguyen’s natural talent puts him in lofty company.
“The perspective for me is that anybody who was great, whether it’s Yu-Na Kim (South Korea’s Olympic gold medallist in 2010) or Michelle Kwan, or (Evgeni) Plushenko, when you look at: where were they at 12? Well, they were phenomenal,” McLeod said. “Then there’s some skaters that grow into that sort of world champion role. I would put him in the first type.”
The coach stuck close to her skater during an interview Friday and said it’s key he has plenty of guidance through the next few years.
“His parents are working very tightly, it’s not like they just drop him off at the rink and they don’t know what’s going on,”she said. “That helps when you have such a young man doing so well.”