What kind of introduction do you give a skater with the kind of success story that balances an education at Harvard University with an elite skating career that has seen her finish in the top 5 at the last 4 consecutive U.S. Figure Skating Championships and travel to Korea, Belarus, The Netherlands, Japan, France and everywhere in between showing off her spectacular triple jumps, gorgeous edges and more stage presence that you can shake a skate guard at? I'm not sure how you'd do her justice, but you could start by introducing her as Christina Gao. Success has been slow, steady and spectacular for the Bostonian skater, who went from winning the U.S. junior bronze medal in 2009 to standing on the second tier of the Skate America podium four seasons later. With her eye firmly an Olympic dream which is very much within reach, Christina took the time to talk about her career, working with both Brian Orser and David Wilson, Gagnam Style, Janet Lynn, her new foray into music and much, much more:
Q: You've had so much success and consistency in your career. You've finished in the top five at the last four consecutive U.S. Nationals, won the silver medal at Skate America, competed at the Four Continents Championships, Junior Worlds and both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix Final... what have been your proudest moments on the ice?
A: My proudest moment on the ice was probably 2012 Skate America because that was the first competition I had after starting college. It was a tough transition but I feel like I showed myself how strong I was by being able to handle the stress of changing training locations, starting a full course load, and getting used to new coaches. I had a lot of people telling me I wouldn't be able to handle it all and that competition was definitely a highlight in that I feel I proved a lot of people wrong.
Q: This season, you won the bronze medal at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial and gave very strong efforts at both of your Grand Prix assignments, finishing 4th at Skate Canada and 8th at Trophee Eric Bompard. Looking towards Nationals and beyond, what are your biggest goals for the rest of your season and what do you think are the biggest improvements you've made this year?
A: I want to put out two strong programs at the U.S. Championships in January and see where that takes me. I have worked so hard on the choreography of my programs and I really want to put it all together with my jumps and spins and wow everyone with how different my skating is this season.
Q: You spent two seasons living in Toronto and being coached by 2 time Olympic Silver Medallist Brian Orser. What was working with Brian like? What did you most have in common and what was the biggest lesson you learned from him?
A: I really enjoyed working with Brian and I cherished my time in Toronto. I learned how to be a consistent competitor and I feel I learned how to handle my nerves and skate on a bigger stage.
Q: You've had a long time working relationship with choreographer David Wilson. Looking back at the programs you worked on with him, what would you say your favourite is? How would you describe working with David?
A: I loved my "Yellow River Concerto" program because I thought that piece of music was beautiful and David's choreography was beautiful as well. Working with David was so much fun because he is so goofy and always makes me laugh.
Q: I certainly applaud your dedication to both skating and your education. Studying at Harvard University and competing on an elite level is nothing short of astonishing if you really step back and think about it. What would have been your second choice if you had to study something else?
A: I love Harvard and I believe I truly have the best of both worlds. I am so grateful for the opportunities I've been given and I just want to take full advantage and enjoy every moment. I haven't yet decided what I want to study at Harvard; I'll decide when I return! I love the city of Boston and there is nowhere else I would rather be!
Q: I loved your "Gangnam Style" exhibition program! What made you decide to go in this direction and how did this program come together?
A: I wanted to do something fun and something I have never done before so I decided to pull together a program to "Gangnam Style"! It was a really popular song at the time, so I thought 'why not?!' I actually put it together in one night because I decided to do it right before the gala at Trophee Eric Bompard last year. I love the program and I have so much fun performing it every time!
Q: Who are your three favourite figure skaters of all time and why?
A: I love Michelle Kwan because she is a legend. She was able to touch everyone when she skated and it was truly magical. Yuna Kim is amazing because I saw her train every single day leading up to her Olympic win. I saw her struggles and triumphs and it was a great learning experience. Janet Lynn. I love watching figure skating from a long time ago and I feel like it is truly classic. Figure skating has definitely evolved as a sport, but I love watching the timeless Janet Lynn hit beautiful lines and classic moves.
Q: If you could go anywhere in the world you haven't been yet, where would it be, who would you take with you and why?
A: I would love to go to a tropical island like Bora Bora. I would take my family for a little bit and then swap out and take my friends. I want to spend time with my family but then I want to have fun with my friends!
Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?
A: I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment because I am currently on a gap year to train for this season. To fill my time, I have been teaching myself how to play guitar. I love watching documentaries. I can wiggle my ears. And I have do the cup rhythm like in the movie Pitch Perfect.
Q: When you have bad days, either in training or competition, what do you tell yourself to get yourself motivated?
A: I remember how much my family has sacrificed for this sport and I take a step back and think about everything I am grateful for. Sometimes, it is easy to make my problems seem so big, but in the grand scheme of things, I am very lucky to have the opportunity to train every single day towards one of my biggest dreams. On the hardest days, I tell myself that I truly love to skate and that in the end, I will be glad to have pushed myself!
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