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Finally, it's Flatt's time at U.S. Championships

Flatt, Nagasu named to U.S. Olympic Team

2010 U.S. ladies champion Rachael Flatt is slated to compete at 2010 Skate America.
2010 U.S. ladies champion Rachael Flatt is slated to compete at 2010 Skate America. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2010) - Rachael Flatt sent the world a message tonight from Spokane: don't count me out in Vancouver.

Skating with assurance to "Variations on a Theme by Paganini," the 17-year-old skater showed off a jumping repertoire -- including five different triples and a triple flip, triple toe combination -- that any top lady would envy.

"I'm very excited with how things went," she said. "I finally competed the way I've been training, and I think I continued to build through the program. It was a great confidence builder for me to see those scores."

Flatt earned 130.76 points for her first-place free skate and 200.11 overall, crushing her previous personal high of 188.73 at the 2008 U.S. Championships.

For the past two seasons, she's been the most dependable U.S. lady internationally, defeating world champion Yu-Na Kim at the free skate at 2009 Skate America and placing fifth at worlds last season. Now, after two consecutive U.S. silver medals, she's the U.S. champion.

"I certainly have things to improve upon," Flatt, who trains in Colorado Springs under Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin, said. "The performance was not perfect, and it's certainly given me a lot fuel to motivate me to improve my performances at the Olympics.

"I'm learning to compete under more pressure than I'm used to. The whole event was a great building block for me."

Short program leader Mirai Nagasu thrilled the crowd with a dynamic performance to Bizet's Carmen, but three jump downgrades -- to two triple toes and a triple Lutz -- helped undo the 16-year-old's chances to regain the U.S. title she won in 2008.

Nagasu placed third in the free and second overall with 188.78 points, a shade under her winning 2008 total.

"I know my last toe felt shaky, but the rest felt really secure," Nagasu said. "I made a slight mistake on my layback, and I'm really mad about that. It's my best element, and it's what makes me stand out."

Commentating on the event for NBC, 1980 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton admitted he thought Nagasu had won.

"I blew it; I thought she won," Hamilton said. "I got caught up in the performance. Rachael punched her timecard and earned her spot on the Olympic team. She's consistent, solid; you can depend on her.

"Mirai, I thought she won the night, and she won me, as an observer in the audience. They were very close in program component scores, almost tied. Looking at the downgrades, they cost [Mirai] at least 11 points, and that was the difference."

Nagasu said she hoped this performance was only a starting point.

"I skated last tonight, and I had a lot of time to think, and sometimes that isn't good for me, because I over-think and get nervous," she said. "I'm glad I didn't skate my best, because for the Olympics, I have a lot to work on and I hope they name me to team."

Ashley Wagner climbed to third place with a rousing performance to Borodin's "Polovetsian Dances," including a triple loop, double Axel sequence and a triple flip, double Axel sequence. She took second place in the free with 122.15 points and earned 184.70 points overall.

"It's been an incredibly stressful year. The fact I came to nationals and skated such a great performance, I have to be thankful. Third place isn't too bad," said Wagner

Sasha Cohen, the reigning Olympic silver medalist who returned to competition here after a four-year break, had lovely moments in her free skate to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, but they weren't enough to hold off younger skaters with more consistent jump arsenals.

The 25-year-old opened with two shaky jump combinations, then two-footed the landing of a triple loop but stayed on her feet until falling on a triple flip in the second half of the program.

"Unfortunately, it was not the skate I wanted, but I still really appreciated the challenge," Cohen said. "I'm glad I gave it a try here."

Christina Gao, who like Kim trains in Toronto under Brian Orser, showed off high, precise jumps, including a triple toe, triple toe combination, in her fifth-place free skate. She also placed fifth overall.

Amanda Dobbs placed seventh in the free and sixth overall. She also competed in the senior pairs' event here, placing seventh with partner Joseph Jacobsen.

Later, at the ladies Olympic team announcement, Flatt and Nagasu were elected to represent the United States ladies.