The U.S. Figure Skating Championships always come with suspense. Top skaters buckle under pressure, and many find the event so challenging, they fall on jumps or footwork where they ease through every day on practice ice. This year was no different, as reigning champion, Alissa Czisny struggled in the Free Skate, leaving just enough room for two time bronze medalist, Ashley Wagner, to win. Skating a strong Free Skate, her program flowed well with the exception of one triple salchow that she popped into a single. Still, her point-packed program delivered the goods for gold.
Wagner called herself the "almost" girl, almost making the Olympic team, almost making World teams, almost winning gold in a wide range of international events, but not being able to grab a hold of a gold medal for several years since winning a Junior Grand Prix event in the 2006-2007 season. Finally this past June, she made a bold choice to move to Southern California and train with Sasha Cohen's coach, John Nicks. "I'm so happy that I made the right decision," Wagner said after her win Saturday night. And she should be. Her newfound confidence (and chiseled musculature, shoulders to boots) made her not only incredibly toned and disciplined, but she looked much less tentative on the ice. I always felt that Wagner had the goods, but with the ladies' field being so full of talent these days, there's little room for anything below perfection.
Ashley Wagner © Damon Tarver/Cal Sport Media/ZUMAPRESS.com
Other impressive performances this year came from Caroline Zhang, who placed fourth in the Short Program and third in the Free Skate, earning her fourth place overall. Zhang's smile lit up the house. Rachel Flatt, 2010 U.S. Champion and former Olympian, skated a challenging yet disappointing short program. The Stanford student rallied in the Free Skate, performing a solid program, just down the road from her new training location in San Jose. She just seemed happy to be there, placing sixth overall. Christina Gao is another to watch for 2014. Her style, not surprisingly, looks a lot like that of Olympic Champion, Yu-Na Kim, whose coach, Brian Orser, is now Gao's. She placed fifth at Nationals.
Looking toward the World Championships, the U.S. Ladies will need to look to bring their A+ games in order to beat a strong field of Japanese and Russian ladies, not to mention European champion and Grand Prix Final winner, Carolina Kostner. Wagner's 187.02 put her in a strong position going into the World Championships, so did Czisny's 180.00. By comparison, Kostner earned 183.55 points at the European Championships and 187.48 in the Grand Prix Final.
Sarah Granger is a former competitive figure skater, adult recreational skater and skating mom. Find her skating tweets at @segsk8.
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