Jimmy Ma made a last-minute decision to enter the Cranberry Cup International, which took place in August at his home rink at the Skating Club of Boston in Norwood, Massachusetts.
“For lack of a better word, I was bored. Obviously, the summer training was intense, with coaching, training, and doing a lot of off-ice. When August came around, and we had the National Showcase [which was hosted at the Skating Club of Boston], I realized I had gotten a little too comfortable. I was just like, ‘Alexey (Letov, Jimmy’s coach – ed), should I compete at Cranberry?’ and he said ‘You will need to ask yourself’. Then when I finally signed on, reality hit, and I was like, ‘Okay maybe I overestimated how bored I was!’ You know, it definitely makes the time go by a little quicker.”
Jimmy came in first in the short program, earning 83.05. He struggled more in the free skate, two-footing his second quad toe, and falling on a triple Axel to earn 139.44, and the bronze medal. His legs got tired part way through the longer program, but finding out his current level of fitness was part of the benefit of competing in August. “It’s a good way to get off on the right foot before Champs Camp,” he noted.
A “mental reset” in the off-season
Jimmy had a fairly successful season last year, finishing 7th and 9th in his two Grand Prix events, before earning 5th place, his best-ever placement, at his ninth trip to US senior Nationals. That placement earned him a spot at the Four Continents championship, where he finished 9th overall, but earned a personal best and a small bronze medal for the short program. He finished the 2022/23 season with a gold at the Coupe du Printemps in Luxembourg, his first international win.
“The off-season was great [as a] mental reset,” Jimmy said. “I was a little burnt out towards the end of the season. I phoned it in a little bit in Luxembourg. I still trained, but in terms of where I was mentally, and emotionally, I wasn’t as vigorous. But then doing Ice Chips (an annual show in Boston -ed), and then going to Thailand, made me appreciate everything a little bit more.”
Jimmy accompanied his coaches Alexey Letov and Olga Ganicheva and several of his training mates to the ISU Pairs and Singles seminar in Thailand. “The mom of one of my close friends is the one who coordinated. She’s a Thai representative at the ISU and she brought us out onto this beautiful vacation in Bangkok and Phuket. The way she was talking about her passion for the winter sports that she represents, and what she hopes to bring to Thailand and the world, it was very fun to see somebody with so much power in that area be passionate about something. And then doing the camp kind of reinvigorated my passion for trying to spread the love of this sport. Those kids, let me tell you, it was hectic, but they made us feel loved and we gave it right back to them, 150%.”
Challenging new programs (and dreaming of Naruto on Ice)
Jimmy is also very proud of the team he has around him, which includes Letov and Ganicheva as well as Sergey Minaev and Boyko Alexiev. “Uncle Boiko, I call him, and Sergey. They’re like the uncles that we all can go to for technical support, and also mental and emotional support. Because the main coaches are supposed to be there to keep you on track, no matter what, and they do so really, really well. It’s just a phenomenal team that I have there. With Adam [Blake] helping me out with the choreography and then Nikolai [Morozov] being the mastermind behind the programs. I feel like we’re gonna be on a good track.”
For his short program, Jimmy is trying a new style. “The idea behind it was Mr. Bean vibes. You try to act so cool, but it kind of looks cheesy. I had a long chat-slash-argument with Nikolai about this, because I’ve done a lot of different programs, and he was like, ‘you could go comfortable. You can do anything that you want. But this is something you haven’t done. So let’s try it.’”
The comedy approach is a challenge. “I like more serious programs than fun, despite what people think of my personality. I like something serious that I can skate with, like, a resting bitchface. So this program is actually the hardest one that I’ve had to do in terms of putting up that facade. And then the second half is from Cowboy Bebop, so I have to kind of make a balance of trying to act cool and actually being cool.”
It’s not Jimmy’s first program with an anime theme. “It’s back to my roots. I wanted to skate to Attack on Titan again, but Nikolai said Cowboy Bebop. It’s great music and we wanted to play that sass up. So it’s my version of what Spike Spiegel would be if he tried to be like, a womanizer or something…[for the costume] I’m gonna probably do a yellow shirt with a loosened-up blue tie, like Spike Spiegel. I don’t have as much charisma as that guy, or height for that matter, but I’m trying to make a little homage to that.”
Speaking of anime, Jimmy was excited about the “One Piece on Ice” show that took place in Japan. “I’m very jealous, very jealous. I’m like, I should be playing Sanji! I’m happy for Koshiro [Shimada], I’ve competed against him, and he’s such a nice guy. And he has the body type for Sanji as well, but I’m like, I’m the cook here, right? I am a hardcore One Piece fan since it first came out, and I’m still up to date with it. I’m so jealous that they get to do that, so one day when I get an agent, I’ll be like ‘Put me on that show!’ And if they ever do Naruto, I have to do that!”
Jimmy’s free skate is to a Mozart medley, including Lacrymosa and the Lacrymosa remix by Apashe. “It’s more serious, but with a Jimmy-quoting-Nathan-Chen twist to it. If you ever watched him skate it, you’ll probably recognize what I’m talking about.”
Goals for the season
Jimmy landed two beautiful quad toe-triple toe combinations in his programs at Cranberry. Maintaining that consistency is his primary goal for the season. “First and foremost, I just want to consistently do two solid programs. It doesn’t have to be fantastic – like at Nationals [last year] I had a fantastic free and terrible short, and Four Continents was the complete opposite. Obviously, I want two amazing programs, but we want to save those towards the end of the season. I want to build up to that. We want to put in another quad but there’s no point in doing so if I don’t land my first one, and then the rest of the program is trash. So we’re trying to balance things out quite well.”
“World’s is my main goal. That was my goal last year and is still gonna be my goal this year. The roadblock will be Nationals. Not in terms of skating, though I have good guys, solid competitors, next to me, ahead of me. But the big thing is, it’s a mental thing. Nationals is always the one where I have to really work with myself and my coaches [to not be too nervous].”
Jimmy has developed strategies to help with the mental pressure. “I try to envision myself in a situation like that, so when I’m here practicing, I want to put extra mental pressure on myself. I imagine: Nathan just landed a steak of nine quads in the program, Illia earlier landed a quint, you’re second after the short, you have a chance. I try to envision what the stadium is like, envision all those people, the lights, the TV, the judges, put extra pressure on [myself] here. Then when I get to a competition, I kind of flip it so it’s like back home. I’ve just got the parents over there to watch. Coaches over there, nothing is different. It’s just another day at the office. So I try to balance that out a little bit. I’m trying, I still haven’t gotten there.”
“Maybe it’s a little bit physical, but everything is mental. I know I’ve done these programs 100 times before, but I remember that at Nationals, Alexey had to actually say out loud, ‘Your legs belong to you,’ to try to like, manifest. I’m still trying to figure that out.”
Next up for Jimmy is the Autumn Classic Challenger event in Montreal. “I’m very excited because two very close friends of mine live in Montreal. One I haven’t even met yet, but we play games online. So it’s going to be great hanging out with them.”
At Autumn Classic, Jimmy will get to measure himself against Illia Malinin, as well as rematch Wesley Chiu and Mark Gorodnitsky, who placed ahead of him at the Cranberry Cup.
After that, he is going to the Shanghai Trophy, an invitational, non-ISU competition. “I get to go back to China for the first time in 17 years. It’s a good opportunity for me to connect with my Chinese fans.”
Jimmy will then go on to the Cup of China and NHK Trophy for his Grand Prix assignments.