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Matt Gade, Deseret News
Courtney Hicks of the U.S. performs in the women's senior short program as part of the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic on Friday, Sept. 13 at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex.

SALT LAKE CITY — In trying to tell the story of a woman who died 43 years before she was born, Courtney Hicks found a maturity and grace in herself that helped the 17-year-old win the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic on Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City.

“I tried to be a little bit more vulnerable almost,” said the California native after she earned a personal-best 171.88 combined score to win a gold medal in the first international competition of the season. “But still keep the prestige of Evita, just portray (the character of Eva Peron) the best that I could.”

Hicks turned to recently retired Jonathan Cassar to help her transition from a junior champion (2011) to a senior contender. Hicks' free skate chronicled Peron’s life as depicted in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Peron, who was married to Argentinian President Juan Peron, quickly became beloved for backing trade unions, championing women’s sufferage, forming the first women’s political party, and founding a national charity. She died in 1952 after battling cancer.

Hicks said she hasn’t seen the musical, or the movie based on the musical, but she did spend some time researching Peron.

“I know the story,” she said. “I know what she did, and I know what happened.”

Hicks said it was her combined strength and femininity that she tried to understand with her program. Hicks skated with significantly more confidence in the free skate than she did in the short program. But when asked about it she said her demeanor had nothing to do with competing.

“I don’t think it was so much that I felt I had something to prove,” she said. “I just really enjoy this program. It’s actually my favorite program that I’ve ever done.”

She said winning the event wasn’t what she expected, but she hoped it was something to build on in this Olympic season.

“It just helps me get a good feeling for how senior events, how they work, how it’s scheduled, and it also boosts my confidence to know that I could come and skate a decent program with the altitude and just do overall well,” she said.

After the short program Friday, it looked like Gracie Gold, 18, of Chicago would be the weekend favorite. She opened with a perfect triple lutz, triple-toe combination, but then bobbled on a double axel, which seemed to cause problems for her until the final jumps of her free skate.

“I make myself nervous,” said Gold, who finished second with a 164.16 score. “The pressure never comes from anyone else. Everyone else is just supportive. I was really nervous yesterday and today. I think it’s just the first international competition, such a big season, and I let that get to my head a little bit.”

She skated well in the warm-up, but said the 20 minutes preceding her performance were when the nerves got the best of her.

“It’s a great confidence booster that I was at least able to refocus and get off the last couple of jumps and still was able to keep with the spins, the step sequence. It was a lot harder, very difficult transitions. I know I can do all the jumps. ... Just in the middle I have to bring myself back down. It’s something I’ll have to work on throughout the season.”

U.S. skater Samantha Cesario was third at 157.29, while U.S. and crowd favorite Agnes Zawadzki was fourth, scoring 151.27 points.

“It’s definitely back to the drawing board for me,” said Zawadzki, who received three stuffed animals from grateful fans. “I need to strategize some different things, figure out what works, what doesn’t, just kind of get my head on straight. I did learn a lot and I’m going to take it with me.”

Reigning world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dancing competition with a stunning free dance Saturday night. They scored 183.69 combined points, while second-place finishers, Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, earned 161.99 points. A Canadian couple also won the bronze, with Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams scoring 137.60 points.

U.S. International Figure Skating Classic: Day 3

U.S. International Figure Skating champion Courtney Hicks offers some advice that her U.S. teammate Gracie Gold really loves.

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