January 30, 2011 in Sports

Revamped Czisny soars to U.S. skating title

Nancy Armour Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Champion Alissa Czisny acknowledges the crowd after the women’s free skate.
(Full-size photo)

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Fragile no more, Alissa Czisny is a champion once again.

Czisny proved she finally has the mettle to match her considerable talent in winning her second title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, keeping her cool while Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu wilted under the pressure.

“I was really nervous before I went out there,” Czisny said. “I knew exactly what I had to do. Before every jump I thought about what I was here for and what my goals were. I fought for every single thing.”

Her final score of 191.24 points was almost eight better than Flatt, astonishing considering the three previous champions began the night separated by only a point, the equivalent of one shaky landing.

Flatt, the defending champ, scored 183.38 while Nagasu was a distant – and disappointing – third at 177.26.

Earlier, Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin won their first pairs title with what could be the most powerful performance of the entire competition. Their angelic “Ave Maria” is a tribute to Coughlin’s mother, Stacy, who got him started in skating and died last February.

“I told myself no matter what we did today, to get out there on the ice and perform that program was going to be a happy moment for me,” said Coughlin, who buried his face in Yankowskas’ hands when they finished.

Also, Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White easily won their third straight dance title to lead a 1-2-3 sweep by their rink in Canton, Mich. Davis and White’s only losses over the last two seasons are two Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, but their steamy tango served notice they intend to end the American drought atop the world dance podium.

No one has questioned Czisny’s athleticism, beauty or elegance. Her head, however, was a different matter.

After winning the title in 2009, she flopped at worlds, helping cost the Americans a third spot at the Vancouver Olympics. She was out of the running for Vancouver after a dismal performance in the short program, an experience she called a “heartbreak” earlier this week.

But she’s switched coaches and gone through intense introspection since then, coming out of it a much stronger skater.

“I came here with the goal of making the world team, so winning another title in the process would mean a lot,” Czisny said.

Especially with how she did it.

This was the signature performance of her career thus far, showing all of her trademark elegance and more than a little guts. She had to fight hard to save the landing on a triple loop, and all of the rest of her jumps – six triples, three of which were in combination – were flawless. Skating to George Winston’s “Winter into Spring,” she looked both delicate and powerful.

Her edge quality is so first-class, her tracings could be sold as artwork. Her spirals were exquisite, prompting the oohs and aahs Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen used to hear.

When her scores were posted, Czisny’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open.

Though Czisny would never say it out loud, she may as well have looked at her younger two challengers and said, “Go ahead, top this. I dare you.”

Neither could.

Flatt’s performance was, well, flat. Looking as if she was trying to play it safe instead of attacking as she usually does, the landing of her double axel-triple toe combo was shaky and she then watered down a planned triple lutz into a double. She didn’t have anywhere close to her usual speed, either.

Nagasu is supremely talented, and has the potential to be the kind of breakout star U.S. figure skating has craved since Kwan and Cohen hung it up. But the 17-year-old doesn’t have quite the confidence in herself others do, and those doubts tend to come out at the most inopportune times.

Her blades were wiggling as she went into her first jump, a triple lutz-double toe combination, and her program was almost one dimensional she displayed so little of her usual personality.

“I didn’t attack the program as much as I wanted to,” Nagasu said. “In the beginning I was nervous.”

She lost the title when she stepped out of the landing of her Ina Bauer into a double axel, and lost her spot on the world team when she two-footed the landing of her death drop and pretty much stopped spinning.

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