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Happy Valley resident Samuel Mindra wins bronze medal in Junior Men's competition

COURTESY PHOTO: U.S. FIGURE SKATING - Happy Valley resident Samuel Mindra performs during the Junior Men's competition at the U.S. Figure Skating championships, where he took third place.Samuel Mindra reached his goal at the 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, using a strong free skate to place third in the junior men's competition Jan. 21 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

After earning the eighth-best score among 12 competitors for his short program Jan. 20, Mindra climbed to third overall with his third-place performance in the free skate. His total score of 181.49 was a personal best, and high enough to keep the 17-year-old Happy Valley resident in the mix for Team USA and for international competition should any happen in 2021.

"I'm happy that I got on the podium. That was my goal," said Mindra, who represented Portland Ice Skating Club at nationals for the fourth time. "Focusing on doing one element at a time, that's what got me through it."

Though in eighth place after the first day, Mindra was only six points out of first place after the short program with his score of 60.37.

In the free skate Thursday, Jan. 21, he recovered well after a fall toward the end of his performance but said he was surprised by his free skate score of 121.12, which gave him a final score above 180 — a significant goal reached, according to Mindra's coach Mari Malama.

COURTESY PHOTO: MARI MALAMA - Samuel Mindra reacts to his score following his free skate performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 21 at Las Vegas. Mindra placed third overall in the Junior Men's Division."When I finished, I was pretty happy," he said. And Mindra was even more pleased when he realized his score was in the 180s. He thought it might be in the high 160s.

Then came the challenge of waiting through nine more skaters to see where his score landed. After the final skater finished, he described his emotion as relief.

Performing without fans was different than Mindra's first three times skating at the nationals. With no fans, Mindra said judges clapped for the skaters and there was some piped-in applause. Knowing many of the participants made the experience enjoyable, Mindra said.

"It was pretty fun," he said. "I wasn't super nervous."

Malama said she was surprised by a couple of errors Mindra made, given the way he trained each day, but was impressed with his resolve.

"Right before he went out, I told him to fight to the end no matter what, and that's exactly what he did. It's that kind of tenacity that will pull you up from eighth onto the podium," Malama said. "Although there were errors, the performance stayed intact. Plus, Samuel just has this incredible charisma when he performs. He really knows how to connect with his audience and communicate with them on a different level. You feel involved in his performance when you're watching him."

The immediate future is up in the air because of COVID-19. A third-place finish and 180-point performance keeps Mindra in the mix for more international competition, should the events resume later this year.

A high school senior at Oregon Connections Academy, a public online school, Mindra first plans to catch up on homework. Then he and Malama will figure out where to resume training. Sherwood Ice Arena, Mindra's home for many years, is closed and its owner has said the closure is permanent.

"Samuel truly showed us how to fight from start to finish," Malama said. "From rink closures to trailer parks to broken skates to icy roads to training in the snow. The list goes on and on. I couldn't be more proud of him for showing us the meaning of no excuses, no limits."

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