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U.S. Nationals Preview: Ladies

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Oh, ladies.  Since 2005, there have been six different ladies champions.  I guess that speaks volumes. And there is nothing sadder than fighting over only two world championship slots.  But that's where the U.S. is right now.  That doesn't mean these ladies aren't among the most talented in the world.  But I could really see any of a number of women winning this weekend at the nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Front Runners

Here is another category where I don't even really feel like the front runners are front runners, necessarily.  But there are a few names I am going to throw out.

Alissa Czisny:  I have a hard time ever predicting Alissa Czisny to medal in anything.  But her Grand Prix Final performance and win has got her stock way up.  I think that, despite her lack of a triple/triple, if she skates clean, her well-deserved program components can propel her to victory.  She has my ladies free skate of the year (so far) in Winter into Spring.  I can't think of more perfect music for Czisny's style of skating and she seriously makes me feel like I'm at a spa when I'm watching it.  So gorgeous, beautiful spins, beautiful positions, and choreography that just exists.  Unfortunately, we know Czisny's track record. So much promise for so many years, but an inability to skate clean has hampered her. She finally won nationals in 2009 only to disappoint at worlds and then drop off the radar at nationals last season with too many errors. Could this be her comeback?  

Rachael Flatt:  Flatt has gotten the bulk of the publicity as the returning champion.  She had a rough fall season with tendinitis and a terrible showing at the Grand Prix Final.  She says she's back and that she's healthy.  She's training her triple/triples and she's got a new short program to debut to East of Eden.  The old short was not doing her any favors so I'm not too concerned about the fact that she's debuting a new program.  If she relied on her components I might be, but Flatt's strength has always been her ability to land jumps. A lot of jumps.  So if she can come out here and do that once again, she has a good shot to repeat as national champion.  

One thing that is giving me pause is that Flatt got a great big vote of confidence on behalf of USFSA from Nationals last year with her scores. They basically pinned her as our hope heading into the Olympics (which makes sense, considering she was the only one to beat Yu-na Kim in a free skating program segment last season).  And since then, the international judging community has essentially thanks.  They have been very hard on Flatt. I can't assume that the international regard of the skater comes into play when judges are judging nationals...but I think you obviously see a little bit of score exaggeration at most national championships, with federations wanting to emphasize how good their skaters are as they head into the major international competitions. But I don't necessarily think you'll see it as much with Flatt as you may have last season, as compared with say...a Czisny, whose international stock is up.  Total and complete speculation on my part.  But the fact that I'm even thinking it shows how much things have changed with the U.S. ladies since last season.

Mirai Nagasu:  News flash, Mirai Nagasu has self doubt!  Wow, that is a storyline that the press never gets tired of. My takeaway from that article is that she is emotionally all over the place, as she has been in the past, and that will explain it if she falls all over the rink or if she has the skate of her life.  I have no idea which Nagasu we'll get.  There is a beautiful skater there with so much charisma and such beautiful spins and spirals.  And triple/triple combinations.  And then there is a skater whose programs implode or who loses points on multiple downgrades and deductions.  Like Czisny, I hesitate even putting Nagasu as a front runner, because we really never know.  What we do know is that when it's's really good.  And if she skates clean, she edges out a clean Flatt, in my book.  Also, she's won this before, way back in 2008, and I'm pretty sure she wants it again.  I don't really think she has the strongest programs this season, but she has the ability to sell them.

Dark Horses

Christina Gao:  Cannot forget about Christina Gao, who made such an impressive senior debut last season, placing fifth at nationals.  She is coached by Brian Orser, and we'll see what improvements she's made.  She was a jumping bean last season and has some impressive triple/triple combinations she's been doing.  She really needs to develop the components and artistry aspect of her skating but this will be a good test to see if she's heading in the right direction.  She's struggled with growth spurts this season, and they affected her competitively.  She wasn't as successful at the Junior Grand Prix Final as she was last year, but perhaps she can rebound at Nationals.

Ashley Wagner: Wagner is last season's bronze medalist and not making the Olympic team seems to have taken a lot out of her.  Additionally, she's been dealing with some pretty terrible medical issues this season, which I just read about in this Washington Post article. So it's pretty crazy that she's even back here, and that she won a medal on the Grand Prix!  But here she is.  BUT I also just read a tweet from her that she's got the flu, which makes me wonder if she'll be able to get on the podium. She's been training triple/triples, which she may even try in the short program.  Wagner's got some weaknesses, including the fact that she has a tendency to downgrades and two-footed landings.  Those really cost her, and of course, she can't fall if she wants to win because she doesn't have the components of a Czisny.  She has maturity and we've seen her with a lot of attack in the past.  If she has those qualities on display this week and can skate clean, anything is possible.

Agnes Zawadzki:  Zawadaski leaped onto the senior scene this season on the Grand Prix circuit, where she had a couple of impressive short programs followed up by somewhat disastrous free skates.  She's got big jumps but an immature skating style so she'll probably score lower on program components.  

Caroline Zhang:  Ok, it took quite a bit of thinking before I put Caroline Zhang in here.  But I decided it's better to err on the side of putting in too many people than not covering someone who might be notable.  I don't necessarily think we'll see Zhang on the podium, but she has medaled here before and I guess you never know.  I don't think her skating has the beautiful qualities that it used to and technically, she makes many errors.  So this may be the end of Caroline Zhang coverage here until she gives a good reason to continue.  SAD!