Emily Hughes, who just turned 16 in January, was a surprise winner of the bronze medal at the 2005 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Hughes, who was so far off the radar of the U.S. Figure Skating Association that she didn’t even have a biographical sketch in their press guide or on their website, bested heralded U.S. skater Kimmie Meissner, the defending Junior World medallist and 2005 senior U. S. ladies bronze medallist. “It was real exciting to compete against such a deep field,” Hughes stated. “The whole thing was great and the podium was a good moment. Because of my success at Nationals, I was in a different mindset for Juniors. The only pressure on me was from myself to stand up and not fall. I’m usually my own biggest competitor.”
It was the first medal in her first international event for Hughes, who had never reached the podium at U.S. Nationals. She was sixth in seniors at U.S. Nationals in 2005 after failing to qualify in 2004. “When I didn’t make Nationals last year, I had to go home and decide what to do,” Hughes said. “I knew I really wanted to skate and do my programs the best that I could, but I had no real expectations about placements.” She also competed twice at Nationals in juniors, finishing 11th in juniors in both 2002 and 2003.
Hughes made significant changes to her program between the qualifying round and the free skate at Junior Worlds to add value under the Code of Points. “It was my first time with the new system and I didn’t know what to make of it,” she said. “It’s different, maybe good, maybe bad. But I want to learn more about it for next season and try to get higher levels. We made quite a few changes because I wanted to make the most of my experience at Junior Worlds. We looked at the results from the qualifying round and saw where I could get more points.”
The 16-year-old landed a triple lutz-double toe loop and a triple toe-double toe combination in the free as well as triple lutz, flip, and salchow and a double axel. In the qualifying round, her free program included a triple-toe-triple toe sequence as well as a triple lutz-double toe combination. She also landed her double axel, triple lutz and triple flip, but missed a double loop. A planned one foot axel-triple salchow was deleted in the free. For the short, Hughes landed triple lutz-double toe, double axel and triple loop, but the jumps were all at the very beginning of the program.
“I started skating when I was three,” Hughes said. “My Dad is from Canada where he was a hockey player. My whole family skates. All my brothers played hockey and my sister followed them into skating. I wanted to be like her and keep up with my brothers. Even my younger sister, Taylor, skates once a week but she’s more into basketball now.” Hughes continued, “It took me four years to get a double axel. Then I was 13 before I landed a triple toe. I like the axel and the toe and maybe the lutz on a good day. Next year, I’m hoping to do some triple-triples.”
Hughes’ older sister is 2002 Olympic champion, Sarah Hughes, for whom Emily is often mistaken. “You can’t really compare us because she skates lefty and I skate righty,” Hughes said. “We’re both very different people. It doesn’t bother me when people compare me to Sarah because she’s a role model. I’ve been inspired by her. Anyone who can work hard and excel is someone to look up to. Sarah worked hard and she deserved what she got. We were all there jumping up and down when she won. We talk all the time.”
Bonni Retzkin has always coached Hughes, who trains near her home in New York. “When I first saw her, I said lucky me,” Retzkin said. “I’ve adored her since I first saw her, on and off the ice. She even learned to swim at my pool.” “Bonni was a real help to me when my mom had cancer,” Hughes added. She only practices two hours a day, six days a week with another two hours a day of off ice training including ballet and Pilates. “I’ve been in ballet since I was five,” she said. “I was in a ballet school recital once. Sarah was a butterfly and I was a flower.” Before Nationals, Hughes also trained in California with Frank Carroll for a week or so.
Nathan Birch choreographed Hughes’ programs. This season, she used “Allegro” by George Gershwin for the short and Tchaikovski’s “Sleeping Beauty” for the long. “I picked ‘Sleeping Beauty” because I really like it,” Hughes said. “The music was so pretty. My ballet teacher gave me the music and I watched the ballet. I told Nathan that I wanted to skate to it and we picked parts you don’t usually hear. For the short, another coach told us about the music. It’s very powerful and interesting.”
“I’m always very involved in selecting my music,” Hughes continued. “If I like it, I skate better to it. I’m also involved in designing the dresses. Both of my programs were new this year and I’ll have new programs for next season. I have new programs every year. It’s important to not always do the same thing.”
“Emily can choreograph beautifully,” Retzkin said. “She’s very musical and she skates from her heart.” For her exhibition program, Hughes skated to a Gloria Estefan medley. “It was something I listened to when I was young and when Nathan brought it to us on a CD, I knew I wanted to skate to it,” she said. Hughes played the violin in her elementary school’s band and can play a little piano. She listens to pop music on her iPod off ice.
Hughes is in the tenth grade in public high school. “I like math, chemistry and English,” she said. “School is really important. Being in school and in skating teaches very different values. Being able to do both gives me a lot of experience. I have a better understanding of things than kids who just do skating or just go to school. Skating really helps me with managing my time and discipline.” She plans to go to university but has not selected a major.
To relax, she likes to hang around with her friends and family, shop, read, and go to movies. “I like comedies, not scary movies,” she said. She also likes to cook and bake. Hughes plays tennis, swims and rollerblades for fun. She doesn’t collect anything and donates most of her toys to hospitals. Her favorite trips were to Finland and Copenhagen. She wants to visit Italy.
“I plan to compete as long as I enjoy going on the ice,” Hughes said. “But I don’t know if shows are in my future. The most fun for me is when I finish my program and look up and see the crowd and hear them clapping. Then I know that all my hard work has paid off.” “I see only great things for Emily in the future,” Retzkin stated. “She’s on a great journey.”