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Czisny wins U.S. title despite third-place free skate

High program components give Czisny gold; Flatt takes silver, Zhang bronze

Alissa Czisny after winning the ladies crown at the 2009 U.S. Championships.
Alissa Czisny after winning the ladies crown at the 2009 U.S. Championships. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/25/2009) - She didn't win the free skate, but Alissa Czisny won her first U.S. title with a flawed but captivating program to the romantic strains of Dr. Zhivago.

The 21-year-old carried a 5.56-point lead after winning the short program and took the crown on Saturday at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite placing third in the free. After opening with three strong jumps, including a triple Lutz combination, she fell on a second Lutz and doubled an intended triple toe.

"I was a little bit disappointed with my program because I've been skating much better than that," she said. "I guess I just wanted the moment to be perfect."

The moment has been a long time coming. Long known for her superb spins and spirals, as well as her inconsistent jumps, Czisny debuted as a senior lady in 2002, placing 11th. After four middle-of-the-pack finishes, she took home the bronze medal in 2007 with a winning free skate. Last season, she slipped to ninth place.

"I guess I needed to learn all those years," she said. "I guess it wasn't my time until now."

Czisny's program, created by Canadian choreographer David Wilson, told a story rather than just skating from element to element. She gained 60.63 points for her program components, the highest score of the night by far, and earned 112.31 for the whole program. She ended the event with 178.06 points overall.

"When I first got the program, I had to [develop] the character to go with the program, and I think the character turned into my journey," she said.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs in my skating career. I medaled early as a junior and moved up to senior, and there was a lot to learn. There was success and not success, and each competition I have to learn from and take it and make myself better."

When the scores went up, an apprehensive Czisny smiled with relief.

"I was surprised a little bit," she said. "My short program saved me."

Last season's bronze medalist, Ashley Wagner, in 12th place after the short, won the free skate with a dynamic, six-triple, 115.05-point effort to music from Spartacus. She climbed to fourth place with 165.33 total points.

Rachael Flatt, at 16 some five year's Czisny's junior, repeated as silver medalist with a technically strong but slow program to Debussy selections. The Colorado Springs-based skater tried her triple flip-triple toe combination, but the second jump was downgraded by the technical panel. She hit five other triples, including two in combination, placed second in the free and earned a total of 173.78 points.

"To win would have been nice, but Alissa skated so well -- everybody did tonight," Flatt said. "It wasn't my best, because I had my triple flip-triple toe downgraded, so I was a little disappointed with that."

Last season, Flatt was not age-eligible for the U.S. World Team. This year, it's likely she and Czisny will represent the U.S. at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles. There, they may be under added pressure to skate well enough to secure three places for U.S. ladies on the 2010 Olympic Team.

"I'm very excited just to go to worlds in general, and yes, I will feel a little bit of pressure to make sure we have three spots for the Olympics, but I'm not going to focus on that," Flatt said. "I'm just going to focus on doing better programs than I did at nationals."

Caroline Zhang improved upon her fourth-place finish last season by winning the bronze medal with a graceful program to Ave Maria, although she had an intended triple-triple downgraded as well.

"I think my program today was pretty good overall," the 15-year-old said. "I just had a little mistake on my triple flip-triple toe. I got all of the levels on my spins and spirals, so I'm happy with that."

Although disappointed with missing the world team, the California teen looked on the bright side.

"I think it will help with next year, because it will give me more time to train for the Olympic season," she said. "I hope with extra time I can rework the technique on my jumps."

Defending champion Mirai Nagasu looked to be near tears before she hit the ice for her program but was all smiles and fist pumps afterward. Skating with good speed, she included six triples in her program, although two triple flips were downgraded by the technical panel. She placed fifth with 159.99 points.

"I just wanted to prove to myself that I could be a contender. Just that I was able to defeat the other ... evil side of me was an accomplishment," the 15-year-old said.