Remember when I said the ladies event this year could be the best in a long time? So far, so good.
The short programs were last night, and boy did this ladies come to play! So many clean skates, it was very enjoyable to watch. Of course, the top contenders were scattered throughout the night, so there may not have been as much tension as there will be tomorrow for the free skates, but every one of them knew they had to step up if they wanted to put themselves in position for gold, and a spot on the World Team.
Alissa Czisny was the first of the “favorites” to skate. She has such a new confidence about her…there’s no fear in her eyes when she skates. No fear, just joy – pure joy. She hit her jumps, nailed the spins, and floated through her step sequence like it was as easy as a walk in the park. There’s so much flow in between every move with Alissa. Everything is connected, meaningful, emotional. She didn’t react wildly after the performance or even after the event was over, but you knew she was relieved to have the short out of the way and to be sitting in prime position for a run at the title. She’s just .85 behind the leader going into the long, and knowing the kind of points she’s capable of making up with this season’s free skate, she’s in perfect position.
Agnes Zawadzki came out with attitude, attack and confidence. Now, her short programs have been brilliant all season long. In her Grand Prix events, she was right up there with the leaders after the short, but falling apart in the long cost her the chance to medal. Here, if she wants to move up from 4th, she’s going to have to nail it in the long.
Mirai Nagasu came in, much like the rest of the top girls, with something to prove. She’s been the national champ before, but not since her mental collapse a few years back. She’s come so close, had a brilliant Olympics, won the short at Worlds last year, but she doesn’t seem to handle the pressure of expectation very well. Well, she certainly had expectation on her here, and while she claims she was “freaking out” prior to striking her opening pose, once the music started, she was on fire! She skates with the most speed of anyone in the competition, and she ticked off her jumps without doubt. Her story-telling ability is stronger than ever, and her spins and footwork really rake in the points. Thanks to her level 4 layback spin (the only one of the top 3), she took over first from Czisny.
Christina Gao has been one who many expected to do well here. She came out and skated an elegant, well executed short program, complete with triple flip-triple toe, and did coach Brian Orser mighty proud. We’ll have to see if her technical content can match up with the leaders in the long, but she sits in 5th place after the short.
The 6th place finisher after the short surprised nearly everyone! Vanessa Lam step on the ice, nailed each element with ease, felt the music, captured the moment, and earned a standing ovation from the crowd at the Coliseum in the process. She was brilliant! She doesn’t quite match up with the top three just yet, but look out for this one. I can’t wait to see her in the long.
Ashley Wagner came into this competition looking for redemption. She was tired of finishing just on the outskirts of greatness, just beyond World and Olympic teams, and she was ready to prove she belonged at the top. Then came the flu that’s making its way through Greensboro. She struggled with the elements a bit last night, turning out of what was supposed to be a triple flip-triple toe combination. She did tack a double toe on to the triple lutz so she didn’t miss the required combination, but everything was a little bit shaky. She did, however, skate with much more emotion and tension throughout her movements that was nice to see. I wish we’d have seen a full-strength Ashley skate, but hopefully she’ll be stronger in the long.
Rachael Flatt, too, had a lot to prove. After a dismal Grand Prix Final where she skated through injury and a short program that just wasn’t working, she went home, rested up, and oh yeah, created a brand new short program only one month prior to Nationals. No big deal. She and choreographer Lori Nichol worked on a program to an iconic piece of music (one Lori once used for none other than Michelle Kwan) that left many people fearing she’d never live up to what that music had once been. Well, Rachael, you killed it, girl! Skating to East of Eden, Rachael didn’t just skate through the elements. She didn’t just tell a story – she painted a picture with every emotion from her face to her finger tips. I’ve never seen Rachael so in the moment, so in tune to the music and the emotion. It was refreshing and a bit surprising, but she really pulled it off. A missed position on her layback dropped it to level 1, which kept her from taking over the lead. She went into third, but just barely.
Only 1.03 points separate 1st-3rd after the short. Nothing like a Free Skate showdown, eh?! I knew it would be tight. Even with Ashley Wagner in 7th, she’s got a chance at a medal. But it’ll take some help from the girls at the top who, after tonight, look determined to give us the first repeat National Champ since Michelle Kwan. Now the question is, which one will it be??
With only two spots on the World Team, who would you pick if you were to choose two to send to Worlds? Which two will stand up to the international competition best?
More to come as the week continues!