Stephanie Sze is about to go on the ice for the State Games of America, a national competition in Lynchburg, VA, featuring 11 other figure skaters from around the country. She got here by placing first in the Empire State Winter Games at Lake Placid. Her song, “Stand By You” by Rachel Platten, is going to come on soon and her coach comes up to her.
“I told her to go out, have the biggest smile and not to think of herself as the best technical skater, but to think of herself as the star and leave them with a lasting impression,” said Shannon Lenhian, who was subbing in for Sze’s normal coach that weekend.
The 11 year old bearing the smile that her coach told her to put on, for one minute and 40 seconds, skated around the rink for her routine.
“The second she came off, I knew she medaled,” said Lenihan. “Everyone was clapping really loud. The judges were smiling, which is always a good sign and not always do they do that.”
Sze did get a medal—the gold one. She won the competition after just starting figure skating three years ago at the age of 8, when most of her competitors started at an even younger age.
“For one year, she has improved a lot,” said Sze’s coach Marina Koulbitskaya, who could not make it because she had another competition to attend in Philadephia. “That means her potential is very good. She is a good student, she’s very organized and a hard worker. A lot of good qualities about her.”
Sze’s favorite figure skater is Tara Lipinski, who now works as a sports commentator for NBC. Lipinkski won gold in the 1998 Olympics, won the 1997 world championship, is a two-time Champions Series Final Champion and 1997 U.S. national champion. She’s also the youngest ever to win a world figure skating title, doing it at 14 years of age.
“I just really want to try to be like Tara Lapinski because I look up to her a lot,” said Sze, who one day wants to compete in the Olympics like her idol.
Sze has private lessons three to four times a week with Koulbitskaya, and travels up to Connecticut once or twice a week to train with her synchronized skater team, which encompasses 16 figure skaters working on a routine together. Sze also dreams of one day skating for the Skyliners synchronized skating team.
She also plays volleyball, ninja warrior skiing, biking and rock climbing—ninja warrior being her second favorite after figure skating.
Sze is going into sixth grade this fall at Shelter Rock Elementary School and her favorite subject is math. Her father, a computer engineer at Google, teaches her code by giving her problems to work on. Sze has already thought about what it will be like to figure skate in college—the top of her list is Cornell.
Though for now, she’s trying to land her axial jump. That’s her next goal.
“She’s improving steadily,” said Koulbitskaya. “It’s a pleasure to work with her. She always has a smile on her face. Very nice young lady, always trying her best.”