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Perseverance pays off for U.S. champ Czisny

Reigning ladies champ has a lot to look forward to in 2009-10

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 J. Barry Mittan, special to icenetwork.com
(05/20/2009) - Alissa Czisny finally won the gold medal in senior ladies at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in her eighth attempt. Although she won a bronze medal in 2007, the top of the podium had eluded her until last season.

"I've grown into who I am today," Czisny said. "It was my first time on the top at nationals, and I was very excited."

Czisny placed ninth at the 2009 Four Continents Championships. She had placed fifth in her last appearance at the event in 2007.

"It gave me a good idea of what to expect in the future, especially not to step out of combinations," she noted.

Ending the season, Czisny placed 11th at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships, up four spots from her 15th place finish at the 2007 World Championships, her only previous time there. She finished eighth in the long program to make up for a 14th-place result in the short.

"I [went] and tried to do my best," Czisny said. "I was a little bit disappointed with my short program, but I can take what I learned from this competition and continue to improve.

"I'm relieved that the season is over. It's been a long season for me. Worlds was my 10th competition."

Czisny competed at four competitions in the United States early in the season including the U.S. Collegiate Figure Skating Championships, which she won for the second time. She opened her international season with a win at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in September. That led to ISU Grand Prix assignments, and Czisny delivered with a bronze medal at Skate Canada and a fourth-place at Cup of Russia.

"I didn't get to compete a lot [in the 2007-08 season]," Czisny stated, "so I got a head start [last] season. I struggled [in 07-08] and never felt ready, then I broke my thumb before nationals. But everything happens for a reason, and this year every aspect of my skating has been better.

"After 07-08, I had to step back and decide if I wanted to continue," she added. "I needed a different mind set. First, I decided I wanted to enjoy skating more. Then I made a plan for myself that included short- and long-term goals. For the most part, I've made those goals.

"I'm trying to focus on doing my best and improving everything to get more points on each element and higher program component scores. I'm working on triple-triple combinations, but they're all getting downgraded, so I don't want to go with them until they are 100 percent clean.

"I can do anything with a triple toe at the end, but the triple toe-triple toe and triple Lutz-triple toe are the most consistent. I don't think a triple Axel is necessary, and I don't want to risk an injury doing it. But I have tried them in the past."

She added, "My coach has several ideas for what we'll do this summer, but I just want to learn from what I did this season."

Czisny trains three hours a day, five days a week at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Off ice, she does Pilates, ballet and strength training. "My sister is a Pilates trainer," she noted. Czisny also likes to go on 40-mile bicycle rides with her mother on weekends in the summer.

Czisny works with a plethora of coaches. Her head coach is Julianne Berlin, who has worked with Czisny since the skater was four years old.

Two years ago, she began working with Linda Leaver and Brian Boitano.

"I met Brian and Linda at nationals, and things just clicked," Czisny said. "I go a couple of times a year to Sun Valley or San Francisco to work with them, and they've really helped a lot. Brian works with me on the technique for each jump. I'd lost my consistency, but this year, it's much better."

Yuka Sato and Natalia Deller also work with Czisny in Michigan.

"Yuka helps me on my jumps whenever she's there and Natalia works on my stroking and footwork," Czisny explained. "My sister works with me on my spins."

"Classical is definitely my style," Czisny noted. "I've been in ballet since I was three, and I started playing the piano when I was in first grade and took lessons until I finished high school. I still play."

Kurt Browning choreographed two of Czisny's show programs that she used until the U.S. Championships, when she debuted a new program to Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Waters", choreographed by Wilson.

"U.S. Figure Skating asked us to use a show program related to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland," Czisny explained.

Off ice, she enjoys indoor rock climbing, listening to all kinds of music -- except rap, and reading biographies and other non-fiction. She also does 3-D art on big canvases.

"I get lots of creative ideas that stew in my brain," she stated.

Czisny, who turns 22 on June 25, graduated in the spring from Bowling Green University with a major in liberal studies. Attending on an academic scholarship, she took a full load of classes, except for one semester when she was on tour in 2007.

"I'm taking the Olympic year off from school," she said. "After that, I have several options, but I want to tour first. I do a little bit of coaching now with my sister and I want to give something back to the sport after I finish competing."