Alissa Czisny shows new-found poise in victory

Posted by puguh on Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alissa Czisny shows new-found poise in victory. Second acts are extremely rare in women's figure skating. Even rarer is the skater who becomes better in her 20s than she was in her teens.

Left on skating's discard pile after a terrible 10th-place finish at last year's U.S. figure skating national championships, Alissa Czisny, 23, gave herself one more year to see if she could become the skater she hoped she might be.

Conquering the nerves that have sadly been her trademark through much of her career, Czisny stunningly won her second national title in three years with a remarkably poised, six-triple jump performance Saturday night.

She qualified for the U.S. world championship team in Tokyo in March, where she will be joined by Rachael Flatt, last year's national champion. Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 national champion, became the odd-woman-out a year after she finished a surprising fourth at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Only two U.S. women qualify for worlds.

Czisny won with 191.24 points, her highest ever. Flatt ended with 183.38 and Nagasu, 177.26.

It's believed to be the first time ever that three national champions were in one women's final in the first year of the Olympic cycle. Usually skaters move on after an Olympic year. But Czisny, Flatt and Nagasu all have just kept on going.

"It's pretty exciting to come back after thinking about quitting and being able to find my love for the sport again," Czisny said, "and really deciding what I'm here for, that I love to skate and I want to share that with everybody."

Czisny said she was quite nervous before she took the ice. "I knew exactly what I had to do," she said. "Before every jump I thought about what I was here for and what my goals were. I fought for every single thing."

Neither Flatt nor Nagasu was pleased with her performance. While Czisny looked like the calm competitor she rarely has ever been, her younger competitors made little mistakes here and there and never looked to be on top of their games.

"I didn't attack the program as much as I wanted to," Nagasu said. "In the beginning I was nervous. I'm a perfectionist, so if I'm not satisfied, or every single run through isn't perfect, I let that get to me instead of going out there and attacking. I just let my nerves get the best of me."

Said Flatt, "It certainly wasn't my best. I've been training clean programs at home and I did two clean long programs while I was here. Obviously, it was a little bit disappointing."

Earlier in the day, champions were crowned in pairs and dance, two disciplines that have been going in opposite directions of late for American skaters.

U.S. pairs skaters haven't won a world championship medal since 2002 (a bronze by Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman). They haven't won an Olympic medal since 1988 (a bronze by Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard).

While Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin became a compelling story here by leaping from sixth place last year to first this year, there is almost no hope that they will come close to winning a medal at the world championships. The lack of stability in U.S. pairs skating, and the resulting turnover, has become a huge problem for U.S. Figure Skating. There's no team that sticks around long enough for the international judges to get to know it. To wit, this is the seventh time in eight years that a national pairs champion has not successfully defended its title.

Conversely, the last 16 U.S. national ice dance championships have been won by only four teams, and that consistency has allowed the United States to become a dominant force in ice dancing. It used to be that sports journalists covering figure skating used to go to dinner rather than watch ice dance, but no more.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the reigning Olympic silver medalists, won their third consecutive national title with ease over the up-and-coming brother-sister duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani, who are 16 and 19, respectively. Behind them, young American dance teams seem to be coming in waves.

Why is this happening now? Two consecutive Olympic silver medals doesn't hurt. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the 2006 Olympic silver medal before Davis and White, and were stalwarts in the sport for much of the early part of the century. That consistency at the top gave young skaters significant role models to follow. In addition, several top ice dance coaches left Russia to come to America. What's more, the sport's judging system changed at exactly the right time for American teams, forcing the Eastern Bloc nations to clean up their act and stop — or at least curtail — their judging shenanigans.

"The new judging system has given other teams opportunities," Davis said, "and specifically North American teams that always have been more technically accurate than European teams and a lot of the other successful teams of the past."

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