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Alissa Czisny Surprise Leader at U.S. Nationals

Alissa Czisny, 21, skated into first place last night at 2009 U.S. Championships at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. She scored a career best 65.75 points, more than seven points better than her previous top mark.

"I went in not worrying about placement at all, so the placement is just the icing on the cake," Czisny said.

The veteran skater and Ohio native (who won the bronze medal in 2007) left a slew of teenagers in her wake, as she skated with grace and elegance to the music "The Swan."

The Bowling Green State University senior skated a solid technical program as she easily landed a triple Lutz-double loop combination, a triple flip and double Axel. It was her spins, though, that really stood out as she displayed amazing flexibility while keeping her spins tight and quick. Czisny earned positive grades of execution for every element she attempted.

Rachael Flatt, the reigning junior World champion, placed second with 60.19 points. Flatt, the 2008 U.S. silver medalist, skated well in her program set to the music "Moon River" in which she landed a triple-double combination and a triple Lutz.

"I was happy in general with how I skated," Flatt said. "My legs did not feel so good going in, so that was abnormal. ...

"My coaches and I had discussed the triple-triple and said that would be good, but a triple-double would be okay. I definitely want to do the triple-triple in the long."

Caroline Zhang, 15, was third with a score of 58.91 points. "There were lots of things I could have done better, but it was better than my Grand Prix, so I was happy about that," Zhang said.

Brittney Rizo, 17, ranked fourth in the short program with 55.43 points. Katrina Hacker, 18, scored 54.79 points to place fifth.

Meanwhile, last year’s champion, 15-year-old Mirai Nagasu ended up sixth after she crashed into the wall during her program. Nagasu scored an identical mark as Hacker, but the 2008 U.S. champion’s lower technical marks dropped her a spot lower in the rankings.

The California native had a growth spurt in the off-season. Last year when she won the title, she was 4-foot-11. She has grown four inches since then and now stands 5-foot-3.

Last year’s bronze medalist, 17-year-old Ashley Wagner had several notable miscues. She only landed a single toe on her combination jump and put her hand down on a double Axel. Wagner earned 50.28 points and was buried in 12th.

The free skate will take place Saturday, when the ladies will continue to vie for the two spots on the U.S. team to be selected by U.S. Figure Skating for the 2009 World Championships. "Everyone thinks about it," Czisny said about the two spots up for grabs, "but I can only focus on what I can control."

That World competition will be in held in Los Angeles and will determine the number of representatives each country will send to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

THE PAIRS

In the pairs event yesterday in Cleveland, it was a relatively unknown team who rose to the top in the short program. Caydee Denney, 15, and Jeremy Barrett, 24, skated a superb program to land in first place, ahead of defending champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker and veterans (and two-time U.S. champions) Rena Inoue and John Baldwin.

The highlights of Denney and Barrett’s program included landing perfectly synchronized, side-by-side triple toe loops and performing a beautiful combination side-by-side spin. They also landed a big throw triple Lutz.

"We couldn't be happier. I probably pictured that program 600 times in my head over the last few days," Barrett said.

ICE DANCE

Meryl Davis and Charlie White strengthened their lead in the original dance portion of the competition. Their spirited program to “Happy Feet" contained many difficult elements. In fact, their coach Igor Shpilband has called it “the hardest dance that’s ever been done on the ice.”

“I think we'll let history decide that one,” White said.

The duo scored 61.93 points for the program and now have a total of 101.86 and an 8.61 lead over the field.

Reigning World junior champions Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, who were second after the Viennese Waltz compulsory, held onto that spot. They performed their orignal dance to Irving Berlin's "Let Yourself Go" and earned 56.97 points to enter the free dance with an overall mark of 93.25 points.

Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre, third after the compulsory, also managed to keep their placement, despite finishing sixth in the original dance.

The five-time U.S. ice dance champions, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (the 2006 Olympic silver medalists), withdrew from the competition due to a back injury to Agosto.

THE JUNIORS

Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, the Junior Grand Prix champions, led every step of the way in Cleveland and won the U.S. junior ice dance title yesterday.

Chock and Zuerlein, who train with Shpilband, performed a lovely program to selections from “The Phantom of the Opera.”

They led the field with 167.81 points, some 6.78 ahead siblings and training mates Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who placed second in the free dance and second overall with 161.03 points.

Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue took the bronze with a competition total of 151.10 points. Shannon Wingle and Timothy McKernan, who also train in Canton, Mich. with Shpilband, were fourth with 145.05 points.


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