The biggest news (or surprise, depending on who you ask) out of Skate America this past weekend was Max Aaron’s gold medal performance in the men’s event. And lots of people are calling it a “reinvention,” talking about how he completely revamped his skating during the off season. But I’m going to go ahead and disagree. I call it an evolution, not a reinvention, because the improvements he made to his skating aren’t changes that can happen overnight.
The best part about watching Max’s performances at Skate America wasn’t the improved speed, knee bend, and edge quality (though all three of those things were great to see); it was that he looked like a better version of Max. No longer “Max trying to fulfill the abstract skating idea of an ‘artist,'” but Max, the artist. The style was true to his masculine, powerful roots,
Last year, especially in his “Footloose” short program, Max often looked uncomfortable. His artistry and interpretation were not convincing and made skating observers question whether he actually could be an artist, or whether he had peaked.
After a summer spent doing a lot of edge exercises, Max gave the naysayers their answer with this spectacular outing at Skate America. He has better knee bend, smoother skating, and his pushes take him farther across the ice. Max has always been fast, but as a former hockey player, he had that hockey-like quality of multiple quick crossovers to pick up speed. Now, you can tell he is really using his edges and his knees for speed. Not only that, but his spins are also faster, and he is holding each of the positions longer.
In both programs, he is skating to the music and taking musical cues, as opposed to using the music as a backdrop for his elements. His personal-best 81.30 program component score in the Skate America long program reflects that, and is right up there with the likes of renowned skating artists Patrick Chan or Jeremy Abbott.
Max has done all of this while skating to a ballet, “Black Swan,” and yet his skating still has a powerful, masculine quality. He made improvements without trying to mimic the Chans or the Abbotts of the skating world. Pardon the pun here, but he maximized his own potential to be the best Max Aaron. I didn’t watch his program this weekend and think, “I don’t recognize this skater.” Instead I thought, “Here’s a skater who has been working really hard—and man, does it show.” We got a better version of Max Aaron. He’s been trying to develop the performance side of his skating for years, and I look forward to seeing the evolution continue.