Santa Monica resident Gia Kokotakis, 12, has advanced to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (Nick Kokotakis / Free Agent Foto)

Gia Kokotakis matter-of-factly announces her life plans in an old family video, the mere thought of which makes her chuckle.

She’s standing on a skating rink.

She’s 5 years old.

“I’m really tiny on the ice and I say, ‘This is a movie about Gia training for the Olympics,'” she recalls.

No one was going to hold her to her words, but here we are seven years later and the Santa Monica resident’s lofty goal hasn’t changed. Now 12 and a seventh-grade student at Windward School, Kokotakis is gracefully twisting and gliding and jumping her way down a path that she hopes will include participation in the world’s most prestigious international competitions.

It’s a path that continues later this month, when Kokotakis takes the ice for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in the Intermediate Ladies division Jan. 17-22 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Kokotakis qualified for the national event by securing bronze at the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships in November in Spokane, Washington, which followed her third-place finish with a combined total score of 98.18 at the Southwest Pacific Regional Championships in October in Ontario.

It’ll be the first trip to nationals for Kokotakis, who was an alternate last year, and it’ll test her mental fortitude as she vies for a top spot in a highly talented field of skaters.

“Of course I get nervous,” she says. “You go out for these little performances that don’t mean anything, and you still get jittery. As the competitions become more important, those jitters increase. But as soon as you step on the ice, everything else goes away. All you can feel is the skates, the ice and the judges’ eyes on you. And nothing else matters.”

Kokotakis still remembers sitting in the audience, transfixed. She was 4 years old, a mere preschooler, but the imaginary bulb above her head was flashing with excitement.

She had gone to watch her friend, a beginning skater, in a show, and found it intriguing. But then she saw Sasha Cohen, who was at the peak of her accomplished career, and decided she had to experience the sport for herself.

“I was awestruck,” Kokotakis says. “I was thinking, ‘I want to do that.’ I nagged my mom about it until she signed me up for classes, and it’s just built up to what it is now.”

What it is now transcends the word “hobby.” A hobby is reading six novels over winter break or cooking homemade Italian dinners with her father. Training some 23 hours each week at Paramount Iceland and Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, where she learns under the tutelage of experienced pros, is more like an investment – and not just for her, but also for her parents, Nick and Rainer.

In addition to coaching from Alex Chang, Jere Michael, Frank Carroll and Natalie Shaby, Kokotakis has received instruction from former Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and reigning national champion Gracie Gold.

Competitions cut into school time. She actually missed a full week of classes for sectionals, and she’ll miss three days to attend nationals in North Carolina, but she manages to bring home straight A’s with the help of teachers and classmates who regularly share notes and updates.

“They’re all so supportive,” she says, “so it’s easy to catch up.”

For Kokotakis, who didn’t skate for more than three months this past year after partially tearing her hip flexor in practice, being on the ice is a blessing.

“I enjoy the freedom of it,” she says. “In regular life it’s school and homework, and you follow all these guidelines. With skating, it’s like another door opens. Nothing matters anymore. All the rules of physics and life go away. You’re flying. You’re jumping higher than you ever thought possible. The connection between your blades and the ice, it’s a feeling I’ll never be able to forget.”

As for her Olympic aspirations, Kokotakis still wants to deliver on the prediction she made in that old family video, standing on a skating rink, when she was 5 years old.

But she maintains a healthy perspective.

“That is my long-term goal,” she says. “I just want to do my best, and if my best on (a given) day is going out and missing a couple jumps, then that’s what my best is. I’m going to go out there and do what I do, and I’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

jeff@www.smdp.com

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