Ogden’s Kai Kovar wins gold at US Figure Skating Championships
OGDEN — Three years ago, Amanda Kovar asked her son, Kai, if perhaps making an Olympic team was his goal.
It was, enough of a goal that Kai had already pondered representing either the United States or Slovakia, the latter being the native land of his father, Karel.
This was somewhat news to Amanda. “So you are thinking about it,” she said. “That’s good to know.”
Now that picture of the future is perhaps a little more clear for the 15-year-old figure skater from Ogden.
Kai Kovar took gold in the junior men’s division at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last week in Nashville, Tennessee. He skates for Wasatch Figure Skating Club, headquartered at Weber County’s Ice Sheet on the campus of Weber State.
The junior division is the last step before the senior, elite division where Olympic-level skaters compete. Typically, junior skaters are 16-18 years old. Of the four junior medalists last week, two are 17, one is 16 and Kovar is 15.
Kovar entered the second day in second place after the short program. Before he took the ice Wednesday, Jan. 5, he heard the score for the skater in first and, knowing what he might score if he executed his longer, free-skate program, now knew the door was open.
He opened with a triple Axel-double toe loop and also landed a triple Lutz-triple toe combo in his free skate.
When Reuben and the Dark’s version of “What a Wonderful World” came to a conclusion, Kovar stood from a final combination of spins, stopped with his hands out and, with his program complete, closed them for a quick double fist-pump.
“Once I finished the end of my program, I knew there was definitely a possibility that I could beat him. So I was just hoping I got what I needed to get,” Kovar said. “I was very anxious waiting to see what was going to happen.”
His free-skate score came down at 135.98, nearly nine points better than the next-best program, enough to overcome a significant first-day deficit of seven points and win 204.68 to 202.87 over Boston’s Will Annis.
“I was very excited. I’d never been on top of the podium before so I was just really happy with myself and proud of what I had accomplished. And now I’m just hungry to see what’s in the future and go after a Junior World spot.
“And, my mom’s pretty cool,” he added. “She’s a great coach.”
Kovar said he’d won regional competitions, but had never placed first at sectionals, let alone nationals, before this year.
Kovar’s championship also gave Utah a sweep in the men’s singles competitions. Salt Lake City native Nathan Chen again won the senior men’s division and will again skate for Team USA at this year’s Olympics in Beijing.
Kovar took fourth at nationals at the intermediate division three years ago, skated underaged in the junior competition two years ago, and could not recover from an injury in time to qualify for the national championship event last year.
“I’ve been to nationals in the past and had that experience, and this year I also went to Junior Grand Prix, so that helped me prepare,” he said. “I knew what I needed to do to be prepared for this competition, I just needed to go out and skate what I normally do every day.”
U.S. Figure Skating discontinued the national championship competitions for intermediate and novice divisions, which were usually at different locations than the junior and senior competitions, which are the two that remain.
Kovar’s participation at the junior championships in 2020 and 2022 gave him the chance to watch and learn from the country’s top-level skaters. Due to COVID protocols this year, he didn’t get much chance to speak with any of the senior skaters outside of Mitchell Friess, who is one of his training partners in Ogden, but said the experience is still valuable and he can picture himself succeeding at that level.
“It’s always fun watching them, always a really fun event, and I definitely learn a lot from what they do,” he said. “I have a lot more confidence built up in myself, I’m starting to trust and believe and myself a bit more, so I feel like someday I’ll be able to be a good senior skater.”
Next up, Kovar goes to Boston at the end of January to perform at the U.S. Junior World trials. His win at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships will be considered, alongside repeat performances of his routine in front of judges who will select three skaters to represent the United States at the Junior World Championships to be held in Bulgaria in March.
He’ll continue to juggle that with his schoolwork at St. Joseph Catholic High School, where Kovar says he’s a 4.0 student.
OTHER WEBER SKATERS
Two other skaters from Wasatch Figure Skating Club competed at nationals. The aforementioned Friess, a Weber County native, finished 12th in the senior men’s competition. Abigail Ross, a senior at Alta High School in Draper, finished 10th in the junior ladies event.