If medals were given for smiles, Dinh Tran would get the gold.
As he practiced his figure skating program on a recent Saturday morning, Tran exuded complete joy on the ice. He smiled as he twirled in the air; he smiled as he received direction from his coach; he smiled as he allowed other skaters the right of way; he smiled as he spotted an old friend that had come to interview him; he even smiled as he repeatedly tumbled to the ice while attempting new loops and axels.
“It’s fun to fall; then I slide,” Dinh said with a smile, naturally.
“Since he came out of my tummy until now, he never stopped smiling,” Mimi Hoang said of the third of her four sons. “Sometimes I’d like him to stop smiling and focus.”
On the ice, Tran’s focus and work ethic are top-notch, reports Don Corbiell, the boy’s coach since he first laced on skates at age 4. There are also no focus issues at San Francisco’s Tenderloin Community School, where the fourth-grader receives good marks, particularly in his favorite subjects — math and science.
On Tuesday morning, Tran will receive this year’s Pat Knoll Award at the Yerba Buena Ice Rink in San Francisco.
Knoll was a skating fan, particularly of 1988 Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano, who willed a fund to provide financial assistance for promising young skaters. Knoll’s sister consults with Boitano and his coach, Linda Lever, to select the annual award recipient.
Boitano will present the award to Tran, who will use the money for his ice time and for his younger brother, Trieu, a budding hockey player.
This month marks the beginning of local figure skating competition with the San Jose Spring Jubilee. Tran has been on the ice six days per week as he prepares for the pre-juvenile division season.
Last year, in the preliminary division, Tran won nine first-place medals. This season, his program is extended to a full two minutes, including some challenging double jumps and double-double combinations that Tran, an avowed showman, hopes will dazzle the audience.
“It’s pretty high-energy,” said Tran, describing the program choreographed by Corbiell with music from the movie “Mirrors.” “The first part it’s all slow, scary, creepy. The last part it gets faster; it gets harder.”
The 52-pound crowd-pleaser has a way to go in terms of catching Boitano on the skating legend’s home rink.
“I call him ‘Fast Car,’ cause he’s really fast,” Tran said. “I think the ice needs to be a little bigger for him.”
Boitano returns the favor, referring to his 9-year-old counterpart as “Slow Car.”
PAT KNOLL AWARD: Tran will receive the award during a presentation Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Yerba Buena Ice Rink, adjacent to Moscone Convention Center; he will perform after the presentation.
COSTUME: All blue with beige cut-outs, sequins and stones that will sparkle as sunlight pierces the rink from overhead windows.
NEW REGIMEN: A recent addition to Tran’s training, ballroom dancing helps with his stretches, spirals and skating styles.