Jenna Syken is unwavering when she talks about resuming her skating regiment after a fall last month at the European Championships in Finland.


Jenna Syken is unwavering when she talks about resuming her skating regiment after a fall last month at the European Championships in Finland.

“I’ll be back on the ice in a week, maybe two,” she says with certainty, not even knowing what will come of a bone scan of her injured hip scheduled for the next day.

Syken, who lives in Weldin Park but skates for Israel where she has dual-citizenship, says she would have toughed it out in Helsinki if her federation had let her. She had just made it back from a severe back injury that kept her from competitive skating for 18 months, only to be injured again on the eve of the biggest competition of her life.

“Maybe if my jumps weren’t so high off the ice, it wouldn’t hurt so much when I fall,” she boasts defiantly. “But then again, if my jumps were tiny and close to the ice, would it really be jumping?”

Such is the tenor of the 18-year-old Syken, unfazed by her latest bout with adversity, this time on the eve of the qualifying campaign for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

Syken began skating at 2 1/2 so she could be on the ice with her older sister Shayna. Shayna would go onto to become a junior Olympic champion before leaving the sport to pursue her college degree. Jenna, meanwhile, took to ice dancing before deciding she wanted to be jumping and spinning. At the age of 5, she switched to freestyle figure skating and has been at it ever since.

Jenna started her training at the University of Delaware then moved on to train at the Ice Works in Aston, Pa. under former Ukrainian champion Slava Uchitel.

Syken, who is home schooled, skates three 45-minute sessions five days a week. She’s up at 7 a.m. for three-hours of tutoring on three of those days, then it’s to the rink from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She also does weight training and cardio at the YMCA three days a week.

It’s a grind to be sure, but it’s also reality for elite athletes. And as daunting as it seems, Syken says she’s gotten better at balancing skating with being a teenager.

“Even though I’m home schooled, I’ve got friends at Concord and Brandywine," she says. "During the week, it’s all skating and school but the weekends I keep for myself.”

Syken has skated in more than 70 competitions, trained by the likes of former Olympic silver medalist Liz Manley and Priscilla Hill, who coached Johnny Weir to three U.S. Men’s National titles.

Pivotal moment

At 12, Syken hit her first triple toe-loop jump combination. At 14, it was her first triple lutz. But it’s what happened at 15 that set the course for the rest of her skating career. That is when she became eligible for international competitions and had a big decision to make.

Syken was born in the United States and has lived here her entire life – first in Chester, Pa. and then in Brandywine. But the U.S. has many skaters and the sport is so politicized, Syken said.

“I thought, I’m 100 percent Jewish, what about skating for Israel?” she says. “I have friends that live and train in the U.S. that skate for Hungary, Great Britain and France. It’s not that unusual.”

Her mother Naomi, already a dual citizen, took her to the Israeli consulate and soon, she was skating under Israel’s flag. Three years later, she is the country’s reigning national champion.

“I know there’s always talk about skaters hopping countries,” she says. “But it gives you an ability to compete at a higher level than maybe you’d be able to elsewhere.”

That’s not to say Syken wouldn’t be competitive in the U.S. or elsewhere. Her personal best scores compare favorably with the many top skaters around the world. The problem, Syken says, is that she has yet to put up those numbers in the competitions she needs to.

“Watching in Finland, it was devastating to see how my personal best would have qualified me,” she says.

A few days later, the bone scan comes back showing no structural damage to her hip.

The good news gives Syken newfound peace-of-mind, knowing she'll soon be able to turn her focus on new routines and making 2009 her best year yet. Her next international competition is set for September. In December, she’ll look to retain her title as Israel’s Senior Ladies Champion, which could again qualify her for the European Championships and possibly even Worlds.

“I know what I’m capable of,” she says. “You train all year for it and then you get four minutes on the ice. You just have to make it count.”