2009 U.S. Nationals
by Martha Kimball
Photos copyright 2009 by George S. Rossano
With name-brand contenders Sarah Hughes and Kimmie Meissner out with injuries, there would be more room at the top for everyone else. Regardless of the standard platitudes about just doing one’s best and not caring about outcomes—and those were expressed with almost humorous tenacity at the press conference for the top-three finishers--most likely there were enhanced expectations in some quarters. The excitement was palpable as the week’s biggest crowd filed into the arena. Not big, but biggest so far.
Tatyana Khazova led off with a pretty program (marred by a fall on the intended triple Lutz combination) to "My Sweet and Tender Beast." There would be a lot of pretty programs skated in very pretty dresses. The evening would be, above all, pleasant. There wasn’t a lot of variety, though. Very little occurred that was truly arresting.
Blake Rosenthal missed the same combination as Khazova. Then Katrina Hacker lay down the first serious challenge. Skating in navy blue with silver accents to On Golden Pond and Scheherazade, she performed clean triple toe-double toe and double Axel, with slight deductions on a triple loop. Two spins and the spiral sequence were awarded level fours. Hacker received marks of 31.22 for Executed Elements, 23.57 for Program Components (including 6.00 for performance, 6.18 for interpretation) and 54.79 for the segment. At the end of the night, that was good for fifth place.
After Karen Zhou missed her Lutz—a lot of that going around--Alissa Czisny floated onto the ice, in a white dress with a tasteful amount of teal-blue feathers on one side, and gave a textbook clinic on the sport and art of figure skating. Third in ’07 but ninth in ’08, Czisny was clearly making a comeback.
The 21-year-old grande dame of the event interpreted Saint-Saens’ The Swan, a composition that perfectly suited her delicate, musical style. Triple Lutz-double toe was the big credit-getter. Some judges thought that the triple flip had a questionable edge, and the combination spin drew some deductions as well, but you had to love the level-four spins and spirals.
What looked like the full crowd gave Czisny a standing ovation. The judges gave her 37.98 and 27.77 (sevens for choreography and interpretation) for 65.75 overall, marks that held up through eighteen more skaters and secured an eventual lead of more than five points.
Caroline Zhang, fourth in 2008, led off the next warm-up group. Skating to the Minkus ballet La Bayadere in a dress of blue fading to white with exquisitely patterned gold trim, the ’07 Junior World Champion pulled off a triple flip-triple toe (with edge alert) and a triple loop before hesitating on the entry into the double Axel and accruing all-negative GoEs. Two spins and the spirals were awarded level fours, while the final layback drew enthusiastic +2s and one +3. Zhang’s marks were 33.83, 25.08 (low to mid-sixes) and 58.91 overall.
Later in the same warm-up group, Kristine Musademba, fourth last year in Juniors, earned an honorable mention and seventh place overall with a thoughtful, measured skate to William Joseph’s "Within." Jump highlights were triple flip-double toe and triple Lutz.
After the resurfacing break, getting on toward ten o’clock, Mirai Nagasu, the defending champion, jumped into the fray with a triple Lutz. And stopped. Unfortunately, the boards came at her. Heavy deductions, no planned combination.
Thinking on her feet, Nagasu turned the planned solo flip into a combination. That, too, drew deductions and warnings, and came close to the boards as well. After a double Axel misfire, "Smile though your heart is breaking," from the Chaplin movie, became an ironic accompaniment.
All was not lost. The remaining spins and spirals were rated level four. Program components were solid sixes. Nagasu earned sixth place with marks of 29.17, 25.62, and 54.79 for the segment.
No serious challenges to the frontrunners occurred until the final warm-up group. Brittney Rizo, in lavender for her interpretation of Michael W. Smith’s "The Giving," demanded serious consideration with a big triple-triple, both toe loops. That element alone received 8.86 points. The opening triple loop was decent, though the double Axel was two-footed. Two spins were rated level four, and components ranged from 5.46 for transitions to 6.04 for interpretation. Rizo’s marks were 31.95 and 23.48 for a 55.43 total, enough for fourth place.
It wasn’t Ashley Wagner’s night. Last year’s bronze medalist looked gorgeous in shades of raspberry to skate to Somewhere in Time, but the jump gods frowned and put Wagner in twelfth place. Perennial top-five finisher Beatrisa (Bebe) Liang found herself without a combination and landed in tenth.
Rachael Flatt, last year’s silver medalist, jumped to the fore with her attractive rendition, in ice blue, of "Moon River" and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. She finished the night in second place.
Highlights were triple flip-double toe, triple loop, level fours for two spins and thre spirals, and averaged component marks all solidly mid-six, though two judges thought that Flatt deserved sevens. GoEs averaged close to neutral, with mostly 0s and +1s, a smattering of -1s, and a lone +2. The Lutz alone received GoEs from -1 to 2, emphasizing the need for multiple judges.
Of the top Ladies finishers, it was Ashley Wagner who really showed up to compete, her face and body language studies in focus and determination. And Mirae Nagasu, defending champion, who took the ice wiping away tears, then ripped off a riff of difficult elements, apparently unhampered by her injury. But those two weren’t among the top three medalists, who picked their way cautiously through their high-value programs as though there might be land mines ahead. Such was the impact of the Short Program.
Czisny, first in the Short Program, last skater of the evening, wore plum and lavender to perform to selections from Dr. Zhivago. She started out strong, with excellent movement to the music; but by the time the accompaniment reached "Lara’s Theme," things had fallen apart a bit, and the slowness of the music emphasized a certain sluggishness in her execution.
On the plus side were a nice triple Lutz--double toe, triple flip, triple loop, level-four flying sit spin, double Axel-double toe, and level-four spirals and final layback. On the debit side: a fall on the downgraded triple Lutz that led off the second half of the program, then double toe-double toe instead of the corresponding triples, and negative GoEs for the last jump, a double Axel.
Czisny received scores of 52.68 for Executed Elements and 60.63 for Program Components (solid sevens, the highest averaged total by far of the competition, with 7.89 for interpretation), giving her 115.05, the third-best free skate, and a total of 178.06, enough to hold on to first place by more than four points.
Rachael Flatt, second in the Short Program, held onto that spot with the second-place free skate. She performed in an electric shade of royal blue to some beautiful impressionistic music, "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" (translation: dialogue of the wind and sea) from La Mer and "En bateau" (in a boat), both by Debussy.
Flatt was capable if not electrifying, accruing some serious points for late-program highlights: triple flip-double loop, triple Salchow, triple loop, and triple Lutz-double toe-double loop, with a lean in the air (8.82 in spite of negative GoEs). Her early triple flip-triple toe was downgraded.
Flatt received marks of 60.28 and 53.31 (all upper-sixes) for a segment score of 113.59 and 173.78 overall.
Caroline Zhang, third in the Short Program, won the bronze medal with a delicate but cautious and introverted skate to Schubert’s "Ave Maria." She wore a lovely dress of lilac fading to pink.
Zhang had a scratchy landing out of her opening triple flip-triple toe, receiving both a downgrade and an edge alert. Her triple Lutz-double toe had edge problems as well, as did a triple flip later in the program. However, four jump elements received extra credit for their positions late in the program, and all of the spins for which Zhang is famous achieved level fours, as did her spirals.
Zhang’s scores were 58.46 and 53.71 (mostly high sixes, with 6.96 for interpretation) for a segment score of 112.17, the fourth best, and 171.08 overall.
Ashley Wagner, whose twelfth-ranked Short Program performance had left her to skate the final in the middle of the third of four warm-up groups, was the gutsy redemption story of the evening. She wore a dress of mostly golds and bronzes to interpret Khachaturian’s Spartacus and win the Free Skate.
The 2008 bronze medalist opened with a triple flip-double toe (she had planned a triple-triple), then two-footed her triple Lutz for some serious GoE deductions. The only other error of the evening would come in a triple toe-double toe (downgraded)-double loop combination. Wagner achieved extra credit for that and three other jump elements, double Axel, triple loop, and an interesting triple flip-double Axel sequence that earned 8.92 points all on its own.
Wagner performed some attractive upper-body movements prior to her spiral sequence and was generally solid artistically, with 6.96 for skating skills and 6.93s for both performance and interpretation.
Mirai Nagasu, defending champion, sixth in the Short Program, had the fifth-best free skate for fifth overall. She wore fuchsia and black with a French corset look that made sense when she launched into "Gaite Parisienne" (the cancan) for the final two elements, straight-line steps and level-four combination spin. The music she listed included classical selections "Caprice Fantastique" by Korngold, "A Fairy Tale" and "The Devil’s Beauties" by Dompierre and "Orphee aux Enfers" (Orpheus in Hell) by Offenbach.
Nagasu opened with triple Lutz-double toe-double loop, good for 8.80 points. The other big point-getter was a second-half triple loop-double loop. Both of the flips, one in combination, received edge alerts and downgrades. But she countered the jump deductions with level fours for all three spins (the layback was exquisite) and the spirals.
Nagasu was marked 49.94 and 55.26 (highs of 7.07 for skating skills, 7.04 for interpretation), for a segment total of 105.20 and an overall score of 159.99.
Britney Rizo dropped from fourth place to ninth overall with some turns out, trips, and telegraphed jumps within a fairly solid program to selections from Bizet’s Carmen.
Katrina Hacker, fifth in the Short Program, performed the sixth-ranked free program to Scheherazade and ended in sixth place overall.
2009 Ladies Medallists -- Ashley Wagner, Caroline Zhang, Alissa Czisny, Rachel Flatt.
Return to title page