There is no doubt that the main attraction this week in the ladies’ event at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships will be the return of Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen. After withdrawing from both of her Grand Prix assignments this season, there was speculation that she may not even be prepared for the competition. But she is in Spokane and looks ready to earn a third trip to the Olympics.
Related: Photos from the ladies’ practice
Related: Men’s free skate at U.S. Nationals
With only two spots for the ladies in Vancouver and at least six ladies capable of winning the title, the competition this week will have no shortage of intrigue and drama. Aside from Cohen, all of the top ladies are comparable in their Program Components. The ladies are all decorated in their own right, with multiple national championships and World junior championships among them. In the end, it will likely come down to clean programs and full rotations in their jumps.
Here are the main contenders at U.S. Nationals:
Sasha Cohen – Sasha, Sasha, Sasha. She has already proven her doubters wrong by attending the practice sessions this week and showing that she has more than just triple toes and triple sals in her arsenal after four years away from competition. She is the best overall skater in the event, and she should make the team if she is able to put together a clean short and at least four triples in the free skate. Cohen has never been known for having nerves of steel, and she will need to utilize her experience to the fullest to get herself to the top of the podium.
Alissa Czisny – The defending champion got some flack for only landing three triples in her free skate last year at Nationals and for not placing high enough at Worlds to help the U.S. earn three spots in Vancouver. Czisny is thus actually coming in as somewhat of an underdog, which may prove to be best for her mentally. Like many of the other ladies, fully rotated jumps will be the key to her success this week.
Rachael Flatt – The reigning silver medalist has been the most consistent skater amongst all of the U.S. ladies during the past two years. Her fifth place finish at her first Worlds last season established her as the top American female skater. After a slow start in her first Grand Prix event, Flatt came back and beat World champion Yu-Na Kim in the free skate at Skate America to earn a silver medal overall. She is widely expected to be the one to beat this week, even with Cohen in the field.
Mirai Nagasu – The 2008 champion has had a year to regroup after a growth spurt and some mental growing pains. She has shown glimpses of greatness this season and is more ready for Nationals this week than she was last year.
Ashley Wagner – Wagner was the only American lady to qualify for the Grand Prix Final this season, yet she still comes into Nationals this week somewhat under the radar. Technically, her free skate is intelligently constructed, as she takes full advantage of utilizing her double axel as part of jump sequences to increase her base value.
Caroline Zhang – The 2007 World junior champion is somewhat of a wildcard coming into Nationals this week after a lackluster Grand Prix series. She has been penalized internationally for her questionable jump technique, especially in her lutz and flip, and her basic skating has been somewhat slow to improve. But it would not be surprising for her to put together two superb programs when she needs them most.
A couple of dark horses to watch for:
Alexe Gilles – Gilles had a great Grand Prix series debut at the beginning of the season and could do some damage this week if she skates well.
Emily Hughes – The 2007 national silver medalist has yet to regain the form that took her to the Olympics in 2006. But when she is on, she is one of the most exciting skaters around.
Top five predictions
1. Rachael Flatt
2. Sasha Cohen
3. Ashley Wagner
4. Mirai Nagasu
5. Alissa Czisny
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