Americans are past the days of Lipinski and Kwan and no longer dominate the sport of ice skating. Flatt and Nagasu hope to change this in 2010.
By Nancy Armour
The Associated Press
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — With her Olympic dreams being over, Sasha Cohen stuck around to watch Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt.
“They’re great,” Cohen said. “They’re cute. They’re excited.”
Flatt and Nagasu earned trips to the Olympics with their 1–2 finish at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on the night of Jan. 23.
“I’m just excited about all the free stuff we’re going to get,” the delightfully filterless Nagasu said. “I hope a medal will come, too.”
Despite all the wailing about the sad state of the U.S. women these last few years, don’t count them out. Flatt entered Kim Yu-na and Mao Asada territory with her final score of 200.11 points, and the high school senior is one of the few people who’s beaten Kim in the last two years.
Nagasu has that beautiful performance style that made skaters millionaires in the sport’s heyday, and she backs it up with the tough tricks.
“We need to embrace the challenge, and I’m sure we’re both up for it,” Flatt said. “We’re young and spirited and have lots of enthusiasm, so I think that will bode well for the Olympics.”
These national championships were Cohen’s show. The Olympic silver medalist was competing for the first time since the 2006 worlds, and she brought back the good old days when skating had rock star status. The ladies ruled, and Tonya, Nancy, Michelle and Tara were so big they needed only one name.
When she rocked her short program, she almost seemed destined to be on her way to Vancouver. But as gifted as Cohen is, the knock on her has always been her ability — or lack thereof — to deliver when it matters most. She has never done clean short and long programs in the same major competition, and that dubious streak continued here with four significant errors. She wound up a distant fourth.
“It wasn’t the skate that I wanted or the skate that I trained for, but I could still really appreciate the challenge I embraced and the obstacles I overcame,” Cohen said. “There wasn’t any regret or wishing I could do it again. I was just really proud to be back after four years.”
And proud to see the next generation grab hold of their opportunity.
“I certainly have things to improve on. My performances were not perfect, but it certainly has given me a lot of confidence,” Flatt said. “I’m going to use that as fuel to motivate me and just improve my training leading into the Olympics.”
Nagasu skated last, and many assumed she had won after her sassy, saucy, and powerful “Carmen.”
Her jumps were huge, her double axel-triple toe combination so massive it would have gone from blue to blue line had this been a hockey rink. Her spins are fantastic, filled with so many positions and edge changes that she must have cartilage — or rubber — where everyone else has bone.
Unlike most skaters, she fills every second of her program, doing intricate and challenging steps into her jumps.
“I skated last and had a lot of time to think and sometimes thinking isn’t good for me because I overthink and get nervous,” said Nagasu, the 2008 national champion. “I was glad I was able to overcome that.”
Fans were clapping in time to her music. The audience was giving her a standing ovation with about 30 seconds left. Even Nagasu was blown away, clapping her hands to her head and shaking it.
But as electric as the program was, it wasn’t as technically difficult as Flatt’s. It didn’t help that three of Nagasu’s jumps were downgraded, making them worth far less than they could have been.
“I blew it. I thought she won,” said 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton, who was doing the commentary on NBC. “I got caught up in the performance, caught up in the story.”
That’s been part of the criticism of the new judging system, a complicated jumble of rules, numbers, and formulas. What looks like a great program isn’t always so, leaving fans frustrated. But Hamilton said that’s really no different than life under the 6.0 system.
“Enjoy the skating,” he said. “Like figure skating has always been, there’s going to be debate.”
“I’ve always said I was trying not to think about the Olympics, but it was always in the back of my mind,” Nagasu said. “We don’t have a strong Michelle Kwan or Kristi Yamaguchi to lead us on, but I feel that even though we’re young, we have big dreams to lead us on.” ♦