Youth was served as the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships wrapped up at the Spokane Arena on Saturday night.
That’s youth – if 18 is old.
Rachael Flatt, 17, and Mirai Nagasu, 16, held off a spirited charge by 18-year-old Ashley Wagner, and the comeback by 25-year-old Sasha Cohen came up short in the Senior Ladies competition, giving the United States a fresh-faced Olympic team of Flatt and Nagasu for the Winter Games in Vancouver next month.
Before the Olympic announcement, Wagner acknowledged it wasn’t the best year to finish third when only two berths were available.
“Either way I’m focusing on how far I’ve come this year,” she said. “It was a really stressful year. Third isn’t too bad considering the year I’ve had. I’m OK.”
Flatt, from Del Mar, Calif., dominated the free skate with 130.76 points, hitting five different triples and six overall. That pushed her past the magical 200-point barrier to 200.11.
“I’m very excited with how things went,” said Flatt, who was second the past two years and fifth in the 2009 World Championships. “I was a little shaky on the flip toe but I thought I recovered well and the rest of my program was really strong.”
Nagasu also landed six triples but was downgraded on three, two toe loops and her lutz.
“I was downgraded on three?” she said. “I was mad on both my toes. The rest of it felt real secure. I made a slight mistake on my layback, which I felt mad about, because that’s my best element and that’s what makes me stand out.”
It was Wagner who got things going for the final four skaters with a rousing program that scored 122.15 points, bringing the crowd of 9,020 to its feet. Saturday’s attendance guaranteed a record total attendance of more than 155,000 when the 10-day event ends with the medalists’ exhibition this afternoon.
Despite the energetic and clean program it wasn’t enough to overcome a flawed short program on Thursday that had her starting the evening with a seven-point deficit. Wagner, who lived in Tacoma for a year and now resides in Alexandria, Va., totaled 184.70 points.
“I’m really happy with that performance,” she said. “I came back from the short program, I was hungry. I accomplished what I wanted to do and I’m really pleased with it.”
That brought up Cohen, always a crowd favorite. Almost immediately she had a step-out on her first combination jump and later had a two-foot landing. The crowd knew the former Olympic silver medalist from Newport Beach., Calif., didn’t have the magic at the end of the 104.65-point performance, which left her well back with a 174.28 total.
“I wanted to just enjoy skating and I was able to do that,” said Cohen, who was second in the short program after not skating competitively since finishing third in the 2006 World Championships. “Of course, it wasn’t the skate that I wanted to skate. I could still really appreciate as a part of my career the challenge I embraced and the obstacles I overcame to be here, and that was really special for me.”
Then it was Flatt, who certainly put the pressure on Nagasu, the final skater.
“I think as I went through the program I continued to get stronger,” said Flatt. “Right before my triple loop I felt a little weak and decided to push through it.
“I think the most important thing for me was just taking the speed that I had gained throughout the program and improving on it.”
Flatt is generally considered the most consistent of the current group of American skaters. She is steady if not spectacular.
“I’ve held back in my performances a little bit throughout the last couple of nationals,” she said. “I would love to be both, steady and spectacular.
“I have been pushing the envelope, but I haven’t quite been 100 percent happy with all of my performances. I’ve been on the cusp of doing great performances, but I haven’t been completely satisfied.
“I certainly have things to improve on, but it certainly has given me a lot of confidence.”
Nagasu responded with a 118.72 from another well-received, enthusiastic show, which was enough to get by Wagner but not near enough to match Flatt. The youngster from Arcadia, Calif., finished at 188.78.
“I’m pleased with myself with the way I skated,” she said. “I skated last and I had a lot of time to think and sometimes thinking isn’t good for me because I over-think and get nervous, but I’m glad I was able to overcome that.”
She also tried to keep the Olympics out of her mind.
“I always said I was trying not to think about the Olympics but it was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “We don’t have like a strong Michelle Kwan or Kristi Yamaguchi to lead us on, but I feel even though we’re young we have our big dreams to lead us on and that’s what motivates us. Hopefully we can represent the U.S. well at the Olympics.”
Still, she was worried about making the Olympic team, which wasn’t announced until well after the competition. The U.S. Championships were just one, although the most important, of six competitions considered, and there were only two spots available. With Wagner having the more consistent season and a high score in the long program, Nagasu had plenty to think about.
“I was definitely concerned,” she said. “Ashley had such a great season. … I was just hoping they take the top two.”
Now it’s time to prepare for an Olympics where the two young Americans will be decided underdogs.
“Other people would kill to have the hardest three weeks of their life going into the Olympics,” Nagasu said. “Bring it on, all or nothing.
“Tara Lipinski won the Olympics and she wasn’t well-known. … It’s just Rachel and me and we’re going to blow them away.”
Flatt said: “We need to embrace the challenge. We’re both up for it, we’re young and spirited and have lots of enthusiasm. I think that will bode well for the Olympics. As Mirai said, bring it on.”
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