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U.S. champion Alissa Czisny leads ladies at Skate America

October 22, 2011 | 10:46 pm

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Wearing heart-shaped earrings and a sparkling rose-colored dress, perfect accessories for her music from La Vie En Rose, American Alissa Czisny skated into the lead after the ladies short program at Skate America on Saturday night.

The 24-year-old, who had considered retiring after her 10th-place finish at U.S. nationals cost her a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2010, scored 64.20 and led fellow 24-year-old Carolina Kostner of Italy, who had 60.23 points after the short program. Caroline Zhang, an 18-year-old from Brea was in third place with 55.05 points. Zhang's only major mistake was a stumble out of her double axel, a required element.

"I guess that was OK out there tonight," was Czisny's modest assessment of her performance at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. "I was really nervous going out there, this being the first competition of the season. I was happy to get my feet under me."

When Czisny decided to keep skating last year, she committed to only one season. But after winning the national championship and finishing fifth at the world championships, Czisny committed to one more year.

"Last year I came back and I only committed to one season," she said. "But I really found that I love skating and I grew to love competition. I didn't reach my goals last season."

Kostner was also not ready to brag about her skate to the music "Allegretto" by Dmitri Shostakovich. "I somehow felt that I wanted to sit down," Kostner said. "I'm glad that it went well for the first time. It's always a little bit of a jump into cold water. I feel better now."

Zhang's major error was not completing her double axel, a required element in the short program. "That's not really a challenging element," Zhang said. "It was just a silly mistake. I think I just checked out a little bit late, so hopefully I'll fix it by [Sunday] and the long program."

Zhang, too, has considered leaving skating to concentrate on college but, for now, she is sticking to the ice.

"I'm happy with how I'm doing right now," Zhang said. "Especially since a lot of people wrote me off after my horrible performances from the last couple of years. Hopefully I can bounce back and show everyone that I'm a competitor again."

After finishing third at the 2009 U.S. championships after being the world junior champion in 2007 it seemed Zhang was on her way to being an international force, but she finished 11th at U.S. nationals in 2010 and 12th in 2011, two of the "horrible" performances to which Zhang referred.

"It's been hard the last couple of years," Zhang said. "There have been a lot of choices and I realized that I loved skating enough to try to stick with it and do the best I can because it's just something I love to do and want to do well in."

-- Diane Pucin

Photo: Alissa Czisny performs her routine during the short program on Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena on Saturday. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

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