The battle is on in Spokane, Wash. at the 2010 U.S. Championships for the two spots up for grabs on America’s Olympic team in the ladies division. Mirai Nagasu staked her claim by winning the short program.
Nagasu scored a personal best 70.06 for her energetic program set to the soundtrack from the “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Right behind her was 2006 U.S. champion Sasha Cohen (69.63) and two-time and reigning U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt (69.35).
"I think that I did my short program to the best of my ability tonight," Nagasu said. "I am proud of myself, but I [also] know I there is always room to do better."
Meanwhile in ice dance, after the compulsory dance (the Golden Waltz) defending champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White held a slight lead over five-time champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (who missed last year’s competition due to injury). Davis and White scored 45.42 to Belbin and Agosto’s 45.02.
Nagasu won the 2008 U.S. title a 14-year-old. She went through a growth spurt and has had her share of problems on the senior international scene the past two Grand Prix seasons.
But last night, the 16-year-old looked confident and put it all together to take the lead. She nailed her jumps with an ease, including a solid triple Lutz-double toe, a nice triple flip and double Axel. Her spiral sequences were beautiful as she showed off her flexibility and extension. Her spins were magnificent and her footwork delightful.
Cohen, 25, looked solid as well, an observation not lost on her younger competitors. "I think it is impressive that after four years she hasn't lost her competitive edge and that she has the ability to pull together a performance [like that]," Nagasu said about Cohen. "It shows she is a true skating icon. I think it is great that we have rising stars and we have all sorts of other categories too."
"I knew before we came here that Sasha would be at her best and she showed that," Fatt said. "I think it is wonderful to have skaters of her caliber and with her experience here. ... It is an honor to compete against her."
Cohen put down a triple Lutz-double toe loop combo (though she fought for the landing) and she nailed a triple flip with ease. It was Cohen’s first competition since claiming the bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships. She is the reigning Olympic silver medalists and is attempting to make her third Olympic team (in 2002 she finished fourth in Salt Lake City).
"I was really excited to be competing again after nearly four years," Cohen said. “Everyone in Spokane is so supportive of my comeback. It was wonderful to put it all together. It was a very special performance for me."
Cohen said she missed the sport. "I love it," she said about the competitive side of the sport. "I really, really appreciate being the people who have come to support me. ... It is a really special time in your life [as an athlete]. I was not quite ready to say goodbye."
Flatt, 17, was the only skater from last year ladies’ podium (also featuring 2009 champion Alissa Czisny and the bronze medalist Caroline Zhang) who skated cleanly last night. She also was the only skater to hit a triple-triple combination jump. Flatt landed a triple Lutz and double Axel and earned 69.35 points.
"I was happy to put together a clean program with my triple-triple," Flatt said. "I struggled with that a little bit this season. I am looking forward to [performing my free skate]."
Ashley Wagner ranked fourth last night. The only American lady to earn a spot in the 2009-10 Grand Prix Final, Wagner took a fall last night and placed fourth (62.55 points).
Two newcomers to the senior ranks skated well last night. Christina Gao put down a solid program to place fifth (56.26) and Amanda Dobbs ranked sixth (56.11).
After falling on a triple Lutz, Czisny tumbled to a seventh-place finish with 54.18 points while 2007 U.S. silver medalist Emily Hughes was in eighth with 53.75 points.
Zhang, the 2007 World junior champion, had a tough skate. She fell on her triple loop and had several other costly miscues. She scored 49.94 to finish 11th.
THE OLYMPIC TEAM
A committee from U.S. Figure Skating will choose the Olympic team after the event. Thus far, the committee has not deviated from the final standings in the first two disciplines contested here. It seems unlikely they will do so in the ladies or ice dance events.
In ice dance a battle appears to brewing for the third spot on the U.S. team in that discipline. Last night Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre scored 37.60 to place third and Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates notched 37.36 points to sit in fourth.
Last weekend, Jeremy Abbott, Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir finished 1-2-3, respectively, in the men's event and will represent the United States in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett won the pairs title last weekend and will also be on the U.S. Olympic team along with pairs silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig.