“This one’s for the girl …” who’s always dreamed of a National title! And the reality is, San Jose’s podium order is wide open. The way I see it, there are three girls fighting for gold, and at least four others battling for a medal. That means the pressure will be enormous — and could cause some stumbles. Or, it could result in “one of those moments athletes dream about” kind of programs. That, in turn, means we have another great event on our hands.
The Break Down
Alissa Czisny — She is, of course, the defending champion. That makes her, by default, the one to beat. However, she’s had anything but a smooth season. Yes, she won a pair of medals (one gold) on the Grand Prix series. But she battled a painful injury at the Grand Prix Final that kept her from skating anywhere near her best. Add to that the fact that she admittedly hasn’t quite felt right all season, and she has a challenge ahead of her. That said, her short program is to die for. Her long has potential. And her artistry is second to none. If she can put the pieces back together, she has a good shot at repeating.
Ashley Wagner — It takes a confident skater come out and say, “This is my Nationals to lose.” But that is exactly what Ms. Wagner has done. And, while the really “talking” will happen on the ice, she may not be wrong. In a season filled with former champions stumbling along, Ashley shined. She’s in the best shape of her career, and she has the best programs she’s ever had. She has the extra motivation of not wanting to be the “almost girl” again. If anyone wants this title more, I’ve yet to find them.
Mirai Nagasu — The former National champ is quite the curious case. Like so many young talents, she has all the goods, all the potential to be one of the world’s best. And yet, just when she seems closest to getting there, she derails herself by collapsing under the fear of falling short. Recently, she told icenetwork.com that she’s drawing a new kind of inspiration from an unlikely source — The Food Network’s “Chopped.” Apparently, Madison Cowan, a recent contestant on the show, spoke of cooking for the love of it, not purely to win. The un-pressured approach seemed to strike a chord with Nagasu. Perhaps the “skate for the love of it and let the chips fall where they may” perspective is just what Mirai needed to skate free and easy.
Rachael Flatt — Another former champ trying to regain her mojo, Flatt has had a rough go of it as she tries to adjust to the life of a Stanford student, as well as a new coaching situation. Her Grand Prix skates were sub-par, and it suddenly left her out of the National title discussion. Her focus is split these days, and her skating has suffered. However, she’s a competitor. She knows what it takes to win at Nationals, and she’s had plenty of time to sort things out.
Christina Gao — Several young skaters, including Gao, made quite a splash last season. This year in her first full senior season, she’s had her share of growing pains. Still, she comes armed with a triple-triple, and programs that highlight her elegance. She could fight for a podium spot.
Agnes Zawadski — Another of those young skaters who impressed early on, but again, the senior season wasn’t as brilliant as some hoped. However, in this US field, she has all the goods. If she puts them together, she will make another splash.
Caroline Zhang — Ah, the burden of young talent. We’ve seen Zhang at her peak when she was unfortunately too young internationally. And we’ve seen her at rock bottom when she seemed to dread stepping on the ice. Hopefully, we’re on the way back up. She’s put hard work in, for sure. But we have yet to see if she has the technical goods or the program components to keep up with her peers.
Girls like Joelle Forte, Kiri Baga, and Vanessa Lam should be fun to watch, as well. Kiri is coming back from an injury, Joelle was a delight last year, and Vanessa Lam was a pleasant surprise (especially in her short program).
Picking the order of this podium is nearly impossible. I’m guessing it’s Nagasu, Czisny, and Wagner as your top three. Who ends up where, though, is harder to say. But, here goes nothing!
1. Alissa Czisny
2. Ashley Wagner
3. Mirai Nagasu
What do you think? Who will the surprises be this year? Who will put it all on the line? Who will claim the World berths?
Not long now, till we find out!