It was a crazy night of skating in the championship ladies free skate competition in which Alissa Czisny (Detroit SC, Inc.) held off the rest of the field with an error-laden performance that had many questioning the results.
Leading by more than five points after the short program, the gold medalist opened her Dr. Zhivago routine by nailing her first five elements, including three triple jumps. But heading into the next element, a triple Lutz, Czisny started showing signs of her old self, and things started to go wrong.
“I was a little bit disappointed with my program because I’ve been skating much better than that,” said the 21-year-old. “I guess I just wanted the moment to be perfect, but I know what I have to work on now.”
After falling on the Lutz, Czisny doubled an intended triple toe – the final triple planned in her program. However, the champion showcased her world-class spins and spirals that earned her high levels and precious technical points that she used to keep her close enough for the win.
“I was a little surprised to see that I won,” admitted the new champion. “I hadn’t seen how anybody else had skated, but I guess that my short program saved me.”
Finishing third in the free skate because of her mistakes, Czisny fought off a charge from skaters who were more technically competitive than she on the strength of her component marks. The 2007 U.S. bronze medalist scored just 112.31 points for her free skate, but used her short program cushion to eke out the win. Her total of 178.06 points is a new personal best for Czisny.
“Throughout the years, there’s been a lot of disappointments and hard times,” Czisny said. “I think I’ve been able to take all of them and learn from them. It’s made me a better person, it’s made me a better skater, and I think I’ve learned a lot. A lot about life.”
Finishing with the silver medal for the second consecutive year was Rachael Flatt (Broadmoor SC). The 2008 Junior World Champion had a technically stunning program to music by Claude Debussy, but she did not perform with the charisma or flair of the champion.
Flatt opened with an easy double Axel, and immediately barreled into a triple-flip-triple toe combination in which the back half was down- graded by the technical called. In all, the 16-year-old was credited with six clean triple jumps, and outscored Czisny by almost eight points on the executed elements scores.
“It wasn’t my best because I had my triple flip-triple toe downgraded,” noted Flatt, “so I was a little disappointed with that. But I am very pleased to be going to Worlds, and look forward to skating even better there.”
Flatt’s total of 113.59 points was good enough for second place in the free skate, and her total 173.78 points helped her to collect her first ticket to the World Championships.
“I’m very excited just to go to worlds in general,” Flatt said with a smile. “I will feel a little bit of pressure to make sure we have three spots for the Olympics, but I’m not going to focus on that. I’m just going to focus on doing better programs than I did at nationals.”
In third place was Caroline Zhang (All Year FSC), last year’s pewter medalist and 2007 Junior World Champion. Skating to Ave Maria, Zhang received the loudest ovation of the night from the Cleveland audience, but was unable to move up from third to earn a spot on the World Team.
“Of course I wish things had worked out differently,” the 15-year-old admitted. “I am a little disappointed that I am not going to Worlds, but I hope with the extra time, I can rework the technique on my jumps.”
Zhang opened with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, and like Flatt, did not receive full credit for the element. However, she was credited with six clean triple jumps, and earned high levels on her spins and spirals to help her step onto her first podium on the senior national level.
“I think my program today was pretty good overall,” said Zhang. “I just had a little mistake on my triple flip-triple toe. I got all of the levels on my spins and spirals, so I’m happy with that.”
Zhang placed fourth in the free skate with 112. 17 points, and had a competition total of 165.33 points.
After a disastrous short program, last year’s bronze medalist Ashley Wagner (SC of Wilmington) found herself in 12th place. However, the free skate was a new competition for the talented skater, and she propelled herself into fourth place overall by winning the free skate with a fantastic performance.
“Ever since (last year’s) Worlds, I have had this mental block,” shared Wagner. “I feel like tonight I really got over it. I know that it is going to be a lot of work to get back to solid and consistent programs, but this gives me that little confidence boost to definitely get back to that.”
Wagner landed five triple jumps, and earned a level four on all of her spins and spirals in her Spartacus routine. But skating early due to her short program placement, Wagner had to wait almost two hours to see if her scores would hold up.
“I sit, I cross every single thing that I can on my body,” Wagner said after her skate. “The rest is up to how everyone else skates, but it will be a long wait, I think.”
Wagner earned 115.05 points for her free skate and a total of 165.33 points in the competition to earn the pewter medal.
Last year’s champion, Mirai Nagasu (Pasadena SC) took to the ice looking like a lamb being lead to slaughter, wiping tears from her face as she took her opening pose. In sixth place after the short program, Nagasu has been fighting demons all week.
“Just the fact that I was able to defeat the evil side of me was an accomplishment,” said the 15-year-old, “and I fell like I have matured from that.”
But the little girl grew into a woman right before our eyes, as she fought her demons and skated an inspired performance that seemed to take the weight of the world off of her tiny shoulders.
Though the 2008 World Junior bronze medalist stood up on six triples. She didn’t receive full credit for either of her underrotated triple flips, but none of that mattered. The young champion was ecstatic to have gotten through her program, and learn for herself just how strong she can be.
“I was really nervous because I definitely did not want to do what I did in the short program,” Nagasu admitted. “My biggest fear was putting all of that practice into coming here to waste. I’m glad that that I put it to good use and prove to myself that I can still be a contender.”
Nagasu was fifth in the free skate with 105.20 points, and scored 159.99 points in the competition.
Finishing in sixth place was Princeton-bound Katrina Hacker (SC of Boston), a beautiful skater who will be leaving competitive skating after this season to focus on her education.
“I’m going to go to Princeton next year, but I am going to keep on skating because I love to skate,” Hacker said. “It’s such a big part of my life that I don’t want to give up something that brings so much joy and pleasure to my life. But I am done competing.”
Hacker landed five triple jumps, none more difficult than the loop, but skated cleanly and with passion to Scheherazade. Hacker equaled her placement from last season, and earned a level four on each of her non-jump elements save the circular step sequence.
“Every jump that I did, I just told myself the things that I needed to hear to get them done,” Hacker explained. “I think that my sports psychologist has really helped me to get to this point. I have been practicing so well at home… skating two clean shorts and two clean longs every day. I just expected to skate like this, and it is a very satisfying end to my career.”
Hacker scored 101.49 points for her farewell performance and 156.28 points overall.
In fourth place after the short program, Brittney Rizo (SC of Boston) made some minor errors and slipped to seventh place. Angela Maxwell (Dallas FSC) had a great performance that included six triple jumps to move up from 13th to eighth place overall.
Alexe Gilles (Broadmoor SC) finished in ninth place with her five triple program, while Laney Diggs (All Year FSC) placed 10th.
The event continues with the Senior Men’s Long Program.