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Olympic Outlook: Team USA Ladies

Here is a look at our Olympians in the Ladies event, which starts tomorrow with the short program.

Rachael Flatt

Flatt is the newly crowned U.S. ladies champion.  The word most often associated with Flatt in recent months has been "consistent."  After coming on strong in 2008 and winning the national silver medal, Flatt won the Junior World Championships.  The next season, she repeated her silver medal finish at Nationals and went on to an impressive fifth place finish at her first senior world championships.  Flatt started this season off with a disappointing fourth place effort (which was uncharacteristically sloppy) at Cup of China.  She then fell in the short program at Skate America.  But it has been nothing but uphill from there.  She skated a fabulous free skate at Skate American (on national television) to actually beat reigning world champion Yu-na Kim in that portion of the competition, and pulled herself up to the silver medal.  She had an almost perfect performance in January where she won her first National championships - her only major error was stepping out of a jump landing.  She received credit for two triple/triples in that competition.  Flatt does not generally receive downgrades, and she is a solid competitor.  Even if she falls, it does not tend to affect the rest of the performance. 

Flatt has been a benefactor of the scoring system  but sometimes pays for that.  The closer attention to downgrades and underrotation helped give her the edge at Nationals over Mirai Nagasu - but it was the sort of victory that folks at home couldn't necessarily see for themselves because downgrades are hard to judge unless you have slow motion. Many spectators thought Nagasu had won the competition.  Presentation-wise, Flatt has a ways to go before she is truly considered an artist.  But she shouldn't have to defend her nationals victory - it was convincing and she skated amazingly.

Quick Take

The Programs:  Rachael Flatt's Sing, Sing, Sing short program is absolutely amazing. It's so much fun and it's the best way to let her personality shine through.  Her free skate is not as fun and although it's a nice program, it doesn't really stand out at all.

Latest Performance:  Not quite perfect but an amazing effort to convincingly win her first national championship.

Strengths:  Flatt rarely gets jump downgrades and she has a triple/triple in both of her programs.  She also has an awesome short program.

Weakness:  Her presentation is weak in some areas.  She has noticeable posture issues, can sometimes appear slow on the ice, and does not have a great line or amazing positions in spins or spirals.

I think it's awesome when:  She lands those triple/triples

Outlook:  I think that someone like Rachael Flatt is not usually bothered by a fall here or mistake there, so even if she errs, it won't bring down the whole program.  She may very well skate cleaner than anyone else here and wind up on the podium.  However, all things being equal, I think she would be scored lower on grade of execution points than some of the other major contenders and will have to capitalize on the errors of others.

Mirai Nagasu

Nagasu wowed everyone when she won the U.S. National championships at the young age of 14.  She then showed us what a fighter she was in her free skate at the championships a year later, when she took the ice in tears but turned in a gutsy performance with no falls.  Nagasu hasn't been particularly successful on the senior international circuit.  Her strength is the short program.  She seems able to deliver clean, high-scoring, short programs.  However, when it comes time for the free skate, her fatal flaw truly kicks in.  That flaw would be the jump underrotation.  And now that Nagasu has a reputation for underrotating, judges appear even tougher on her.  No hint that this problem will somehow be resolved before the Olympic competition.

I sometimes think Nagasu has an immature look on the ice, like her movements aren't quite carried through or her arm positions aren't great.  But I didn't feel like that during her performances at the U.S. Nationals last month.  Everything seemed to come together.  She had great presentation, a lot of speed, beautiful spiral and spin positions, and a connection with the crowd.  She captivated people in person and on television.  Unfortunately, she also underrotated multiple jumps in the free skate.

One thing that I like about Nagasu is that she doesn't seem to be putting any pressure on herself here, which is different from her attitude in the past.  She just seems to be enjoying herself and being ambitious with her skating.  For example, she's adding a triple/triple to her short program, rather than doing the triple/double she did at nationals.  And I know a few other American teenagers who went for broke at the Olympics and came home with gold medals, so Nagasu should not be overlooked.

Quick Take

The Programs:  Both of the programs are a lot of fun.  I was worried that Nagasu was not mature enough to make the Carmen long program work, but I was wrong.

Latest Performance:  Performance-wise, these were perfect.  Technically, she can't have that many downgrades and do as well at the Olympics. 

Strengths:  Energy, presentation, positions

Weakness:  Underrotation (have I mentioned this before?)

It gives me the creeps when:  She cries.  Thankfully, she has given up crying.  Or Frank Carroll (her coach) won't let her cry anymore.  Either way, she is a different skater these days!

I think it's awesome when:  She performs these programs to their potential.  She is a breath of fresh air.

Outlook:  Nagasu is reportedly doing a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination in her short program.  If she lands all of her jumps cleanly, she could have a very high placement after the short program.  She's also been practicing very well.  I am unsure if I trust that she will be able to rotate all of her jumps in the free skate, but like I said, she's a fighter and I won't count her out.