The U.S. Figure Skating Championships culminated on Saturday night with the Championship Ladies freeskate in the Spokane Arena in front of a packed house.
Several ladies stood up to the pressure of the competition, but it was Rachael Flatt who ran away with the competition and a ticket to compete in the Olympic Games next month in Vancouver.
“It was a great program, and I’m happy how things went,” Flatt said after her skate. “I finally competed the way I have been training, and I think that I continued to build ground throughout the program.”
Flatt landed seven triple jumps including a triple flip-triple toe loop combination in her Rachmaninov program that propelled her to her first U.S. title in convincing fashion.
“My performances were not perfect, but it certainly has given me a lot of confidence at this point,” the 17-year-old explained. “I’m just going to use that as fuel to motivate me and just improve my training leading into the Olympics.”
Flatt earned a new U.S. Championships high score of 200.11 points in the competition, and is looking forward to experiencing all that the Olympic Games have to offer.
“The thing that I am looking forward to most is the Opening Ceremonies,” Flatt said with a smile. “I also want to see as many events as I can. Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can see all of them because I can’t be all places at once.”
Mirai Nagasu was able to overcome her demons to pull together another strong performance and earn the silver medal in the competition. The 16-year-old high school junior was nominated to join Flatt on the team that will compete in Vancouver.
“I skated last, and I had a lot of time to think, and sometimes thinking isn’t good for me,” said the silver medalist. “I just over think and get nervous, so I am glad that I was able to overcome that. It wasn’t my best, and I know for the Olympics I have a lot to work on.”
The silver medalist was far from perfect in her sassy Carmen program, incurring downgrades on three jumps, but she was able to maintain her composure throughout the event. Nagasu’s scored 188.78 points in the competition, and is looking forward to competing in the Olympic Games.
“Other people would kill to have (this opportunity), and I am excited to keep training my long and short programs because I love both pieces of music,” Nagasu explained before offering a challenge. “Going into Olympics, it’s just bring it on- all or nothing.”
But the Olympian-to-be is most looking forward to the benefits of being named to the team more than anything else.
“I hear that we get the best seats because we are the athletes,” Nagasu grinned. “So, I’m just excited to see the events live because I’ve grown up watching them. The Opening Ceremonies will definitely be the best part.”
Nagasu later admitted, “I’m just excited about all of the free stuff that we get, and I hope that a medal will come, too.”
Both Flatt and Nagasu were also named to the 2010 World Championships team that will compete in Torino in March.
Finishing in the dreaded third position was Ashley Wagner despite finishing in second place in the freeskate. Her Polovtsian Dances program started strong, and the bronze medalist was able to build momentum through the end of the program.
“It’s been a really great season for me, and it was nice to top it off with a nice solid Nationals,” Wagner admitted. “I feel like I came back after that short program with the bobble, and I was hungry. I really accomplished what I wanted to, and I’m really pleased with it.”
Wagner was the first of the top contenders to skate, and she set the bar high with a six triple jump performance. The 18-year-old received the biggest audience response of the entire evening, and had the crowd on its feet some fifteen seconds before her program was through. Wagner finished the competition with 184.70 points, and was named as the first alternate for the Olympic Games and the World Championships.
“I’m focusing on how far I’ve come this year,” Wagner said after the competition. “It’s been an incredibly stressful year, and the fact that I made it to this Nationals and put out what I did… I’m just so happy for that. Third place actually isn’t that bad considering the year that I have had.”
Sasha Cohen struggled throughout her Moonlight Sonata freeskate, and was credited with one clean triple jump in the program and fell to forth place overall. Cohen also struggled with her straightline step sequence in the program, earning a level one for her efforts.
“I was disappointed with my free skate,” Cohen confessed after she skated. “It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I still enjoyed being out there and performing for the audience.”
Cohen was disappointed in her performance in the freeskate, but maintained a positive outlook on the competition.
“I was really happy I could come back to fight and be here after four years,” Cohen said. “This whole event has been incredible. It’s been a great challenge for me. I’m really happy to be here for the week and see so many familiar faces.”
The pewter medalist was named as the second alternate for the Olympic Games as well as the World Championships.
Finishing in fifth place was Christine Gao, perhaps the biggest surprise of the competition, in her debut on the senior level at the U.S. Championships. The 15-year-old opened with a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, and landed two additional triple jumps in her La Fille Mal Gardee program. Although it was not official, it is expected that Gao will be selected to compete at the World Junior Championships in March.
Amanda Dobbs finished in sixth place in her senior debut, one place better than her finish in the senior pairs competition last weekend. Dobbs’s strong component skills supplemented her lack of difficult jumps, and allowed her to maintain her position after the short program. The 16-year-old has been selected to compete at the Four Continents Championships next week in Korea.
Rounding out the top ten are Beatrisa Liang, Alexe Gilles, Emily Hughes, and last year’s champion Alissa Czisny in seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth respectively. Gilles and eleventh place finisher Caroline Zhang will join Dobbs in Korea at the Four Continents Championships.