Nam Nguyen was too young to compete in international junior figure skating competitions last year.
This year, at age 13, he can.
On Monday, Nguyen, of Burnaby, B.C. won the men's preliminary round at the world junior figure skating championships in Minsk, Belarus. And he landed his first clean triple Axel in competition, to boot.
Eight of the nine international judges gave him bonus scores for the execution of the difficult jump with 3 ½ rotations, so he was able to wring an additional 1.29 points out of it.
Nguyen won the preliminaries with 116.33 points, about six points ahead of his closest competitor, June Hyoung Lee of South Korea. He is the youngest male competitor at the event. And he was the only male to attempt a triple Axel in the preliminaries.
"It felt really good out there," Nguyen said. "I had a lot of fun, and it was my first time to do a clean triple Axel. It looked easy, but it was pretty hard.
"I try to think about competing with the other skaters, not about the age. I just want to do my best out there. Although it wasn't my best, I still felt it was really good," he said.
The pint-sized skater became the youngest man in Canada to win a junior title last year when he was only 12 years old. This season, he stepped up to the senior ranks at the Canadian championships and at age 13, took on world champion Patrick Chan. Nguyen finished seventh at the event in Moncton, N.B., unable to attempt a triple Axel in his free skate because he'd been slashed by another skater's blade in practice the week before the event.
The competition will only get tougher for Nguyen this week in Minsk. He had to qualify for the main draw, filled with 16 skaters who direct qualification from having competed at the past world junior championships. Nguyen had to go through the preliminary rounds because he had never competed at the event before.
He'll compete in the men's short program on Thursday, with the final on Saturday. Liam Firus of North Vancouver, B.C. will also represent Canada, after having finished sixth at the senior level at the Canadian championships.
Both of them will have to face Junior Grand Prix Final champion Jason Brown of the United States (who does not have a triple Axel), Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist Han Yan of China, Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, who has already competed for several years at senior world championships and Russian Artur Dmitriev, Jr., son of a two-time Olympic gold medalist in pairs.
Nguyen has room to improve. In his free skate routine on Monday, he underrotated an ambitious triple Lutz – triple toe loop combination, singled a triple Lutz, and underrotated a second triple-triple combination.
The young skater is also known for the peppy exhibition he skated at the Vancouver Olympics.
Canada's best hope for a medal at the event in Minsk will be with Katherine Bobak, 17 and Ian Beharry, 19, of Guelph, Ont. in the pairs event Although they joined forces only this season, Bobak and Beharry won a silver medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Quebec City in December behind the more seasoned Chinese pair Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who also compete at the senior level internationally.