Colorado Springs, Colo. • When Angela Wang was just 5 years old, her parents took her to the County Ice Center in Murray and paid $1.50 to rent ice skates and enjoy three hours of public skating.
Little did they know what passion they were igniting.
Nearly a dozen years later, the 16-year-old Wang has blossomed into one of the most promising young figure skaters in the country. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, she lives and trains now in Colorado Springs — home of the U.S. Olympic Committee — where she hopes an intense focus on elite training with top coaches will push her onto the podium at the Olympics one day.
“I try not to think about it too much,” she said. “It’s kind of scary. For now, I’m just taking it one season at a time and trying to do my best at every competition and do my best at it. The Olympics seems so far away.”
They’re not, of course.
The 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia are barely nine months away, and dozens of athletes who live and train in Utah will compete there. But Wang acknowledged she’s not likely to improve enough so quickly to be among them, figuring her horizon probably extends to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.
Still, her coach sees great things ahead, after Wang finished ninth at the recent U.S. Championships, despite falling during her free skate.
Wang has a “top-notch” future, said Christy Krall, the former Olympian and two-time national silver medalist who coaches her. “She’s very podium-bound, with the potential to win eventually. I think she’s that great. … She has, I think, the heart and the mind to do what she has to do.”
Already, she has shown that.
Wang was just 14 years old when she moved with her mother to Colorado Springs in 2011, for the chance to train with Krall and a bevy of other premier coaches at the World Arena — home of the Broadmoor Skating Club that has produced such luminaries as Peggy Fleming, Todd Eldredge, Paul Wylie, Rachael Flatt and current national champion Max Aaron.
Wang had been attending Wasatch Junior High and training at the Steiner Aquatic Center, but gradually found it more difficult to get the training she felt she needed in an environment that has never produced elite athletes the same way as other local winter-sports facilities have since the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
“I didn’t feel like I was getting what I needed with the coaches and training in general,” she said. “I kind of felt like I was on my own.”
So when she was on spring break three years ago, Wang and her mother traveled to Colorado Springs for a week of working with Krall and her team.
It changed everything.
“When I came here that week, I saw everybody working together and supporting each other and motivating each other,” Wang recalled. “That week, I just improved so much, and my eyes were opened. I just realized there’s this whole world in Colorado Springs.”
Now, she’s immersed in it.
Wang attends Cheyenne Mountain High School, which features a flexible schedule for skaters in training, similar to the way the Winter Sports School in Park City allows elite athletes time off in the winter for international competitions. She trains up to three times a day during the season, just a few miles from the USOC and U.S. Figure Skating headquarters, and still maintains a perfect GPA, the goal of becoming a doctor and the dream of skating like her hero, Michelle Kwan.
“Very driven,” Krall said.
The big downside is that while her mother, Shuyan Wang, acts as her chauffeur, Wang seldom sees her father, Laixin Wang, who still lives in Salt Lake City for his job as a chemist with Tandem Labs — crucial to the continued support of his daughter’s expensive dream. They’re able to chat frequently online, but live visits are usually months apart.
“It’s really hard on him,” Wang said, “because he doesn’t have anybody, and I’m an only child. So all he does is work and go home.”
And be proud, of course.
Laixin Wang recalled how his daughter “begged” for skating lessons after that first experience at the County Ice Center, and joked that in the beginning, he and his wife — they emigrated from China in 1994 — just wanted to keep her busy.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “she chose the most expensive sport out of all the ones she tried.”
Wang also excelled at gymnastics when she was younger, but gave that up to more seriously pursue figure skating when she was about 10 years old.
“We just do the best we can do to support her,” Laixin Wang added. “It has been tough both financially and mentally for the family splitting, but we are very grateful for getting lots of support from friends in both Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs.”
With her season over, Wang has been focused on choreographing new routines for next season, when she hopes to improve her consistency in the short program, where she suffers nerves too often. Krall said their big focus is on the artistic side — “that’s where she’s going to break out more and more,” she said — since athleticism is not a problem.
Wang performs triple-jumps with ease, and is one of just a few female competitors who perform a triple-Lutz, triple-toe loop and a double-toe loop in combination. No surprise, perhaps, given Wang’s obsession from an early age.
“I just remember that I wanted to jump,” she said. “I wanted to skate backwards. I don’t know if it came easily to me, but I just know I was really driven and I really wanted it. I was very stubborn about it. … I think I like skating because I just kept on wanting to improve.”
Improve, she has.
Wang finished fourth at the Junior Grand Prix final last season, after winning the JGP Croatia event and finishing third in the JGP United States competition. She’s expected to learn her first JGP assignment for next season in June, and will earn more if she performs well.
After that … who knows?
Wang hopes to move into the senior ranks in the next year or two, and it’s not inconceivable that time and practice and patience forge her into one of the top American medal hopes for 2018.
For now, though, Wang is happy enough seeing how far she has come, without obsessing too much about how much farther she has to go.
“Just seeing how far I’ve come, that’s a reward in itself,” she said. “Just knowing that I started from nothing and I’m here now. I never would have imagined I’d be in Colorado Springs when I first stepped on the ice. It’s just crazy. And just seeing everything come together and then seeing your hard work pay off, like just having a good performance at a competition.”
A closer look at SLC native Angela Wang
• Figure skater finished ninth at recent U.S. Figure Skating Championships. • Won JGP Croatia event last season, and was fourth at JGP Final. • Born and raised in Salt Lake City, lives and trains in Colorado Springs.