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Courtesy Intermountain Interclub/Utah Figure Skating/
Hina Ueno

SALT LAKE CITY — Figure skating was just an activity Justin Ly enjoyed until he realized the sport offered him more opportunities than he’d imagined.

“At first I just liked doing it,” said the 16-year-old. “I didn’t actually realize I had a talent or that I wanted to go far until I was around the age of 10. I started getting better, landing more jumps and getting really competitive.”

Ly is one of four local athletes who will compete at this weekend’s Challenge Skate, which is part of the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, at the Salt Lake Sports Complex. The event allows young skaters who competed at last year’s nationals the chance to test themselves at an international event.

“I’m a tiny bit nervous, but mainly about getting (my triple jumps) out there,” said Ly, who hopes to land his triple axles cleanly this weekend. “I’ve been working on them for about seven months. I would love to place, but it’s not like a huge thing.”

The U.S. International Figure Skating Classic will feature more than 70 athletes from 20 countries, including U.S. champion Max Aaron, world junior champion Joshua Farris, 2013 U.S. silver medalist Gracie Gold and Agnes Zawadzki, reigning bronze medalist.

The competition begins Thursday morning with Challenge Skate, with the ISU event starting with the pairs short program at 5 p.m. The competition continues through Saturday at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex. Hina Ueno, who turned 13 two weeks ago, said she hopes to earn a personal best at this weekend’s event that will feature some impressive international skaters in the Figure Skating Classic.

“My goal is to get a personal best score and try to skate as clean as possible,” she said. “If I do pretty good here, I probably will put more challenging tricks in and get ready for regionals in California (next month).”

Ueno was introduced to ice skating when she was 7 years old through the Provo Peaks Ice Arena’s Learn to Skate program. She was also involved in gymnastics at the time and said she believes her training in that sport help her with the balance and strength needed to land competitive jumps.

“I was really focused on gymnastics until I realized I wanted to skate more than do gymnastics,” she said. “Gymnastics was all about training and strength, and skating, I just felt more free and graceful, but strong as well. The jumps are hard, but I think I like them the best. I think doing gymnastics helped my balance and verticle jump.”

She said this weekend’s competition is both exciting and intimidating.

“Usually before my competitions, I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited. It’s fun to travel to different and new places, but it’s very convenient that it’s here in Salt Lake City.”

Both Ueno and Ly have competed at nationals. For Ueno, last year was her first trip, while it was Ly’s third nationals.

“I didn’t do as well as I planned,” Ueno said. “It was a fun and good experience for me. I was a little nervous because it was my first nationals. I got to meet many good people. I didn’t do so well, but I challenged a lot of tricks which helped for this season.”

Ly called it a “great experience” that helped him reach new heights. “There are a lot of really good skaters who are obviously better than you, and it motivates you to do better,” he said.

The other two local skaters are Matthew Graham, from Shelley, Idaho, and Layton’s Mitchell Friess, 16.

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