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Flatt solid, Nagasu spectacular in early skating

January 21, 2010 |  9:48 pm

The battle for the two women's figure skating spots on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team began with Thursday night's short program at the U.S. championships in Spokane, Wash.

The first group of skaters included the 1-2 finishers at last year's nationals, Alissa Czisny and Rachael Flatt.

In the second group, 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, 16, simply blew the doors off the building with solid jumps, spins that seemed as if they would go on all night and beautiful body positions on almost every element.  She took the early lead with 70.06 points.

And Nagasu doesn't even think she is considered a contender for the Olympic team -- at least based on what she reads on the Internet.

"I wasn't even considered a candidate for the Olympics," she said.  "I'm just here to show myself and everyone that I'm the future of the USA.  I just hope to grow from there.

"The U.S. is not on top of figure skating right now.  I think that's an embarrassment because of the rich history the U.S. has."

The judges somehow saw fit to give Nagasu lower program component (artistic) scores than Flatt, even though Nagasu was infinitely better in every category that goes into the components.

Flatt, 17, known for her consistency, had hanging landings on some of her jumps but pulled off a triple-triple combination and a very solid program that will undoubtedly leave her near the top of the standings.  Her score of 69.35 was more than six points better than her previous best at nationals in 2008.

Czisny, known for her inconsistency, had her Olympic hopes likely disappear after barely 30 seconds, when she fell on her opening jump, a triple lutz.  She then doubled the next planned triple, and all her grace and elegance on the spins that followed were wasted.

"You never know what might happen," Czisny said.  "I'm not going to give up."

"I'm a little shocked at how it went,'' Czisny said, noting that the triple lutz -- on which she fell -- is a jump that has not bedeviled her this season.

Flatt called her first two jumping passes "shaky" but was pleased by how she could call on her training to get through them.

"And I finally have done a clean short program with a triple-triple in it," she said.

Caroline Zhang, who three years ago was looked at along with Nagasu as the future of U.S. women's skating, fell apart in the short program, falling on her triple loop jump and scoring just 49.94 points as she slowed to a crawl.  That is more than 12 points lower than her short-program personal best from two years ago.  

"There was a lot of pressure going into this competition, and I made the mistake of watching all the skaters who went before," said Zhang, who followed Flatt and Nagasu.

-- Philip Hersh