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Flatt wins free as Kim falls to earth

South Korean claims title but falters on three jumps

Yu-Na Kim lost the free skate but won the ladies title at Skate America.
Yu-Na Kim lost the free skate but won the ladies title at Skate America. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/15/2009) - There's an old saying: ice is slippery.

Yesterday, folks practically anointed Yu-Na Kim the 2010 Olympic champion three months ahead of time. But in the first few seconds of her free skate today, the seemingly invincible South Korean turned mortal, faltering on her opening triple Lutz, triple toe combination and falling on her triple flip.

"I hate to say this, because you always want to skate well, but I'd rather have this [program] happen here than at the Olympics," Kim's coach, Brian Orser, said of the shock result.

The world champion landed just three clean triple jumps in her program to Gershwin's "Concerto in F," calling it her worst performance in years. She earned 111.70 points, some 22.25 off her personal best, and placed second in the free skate to Rachael Flatt.

Fortunately for Kim, a huge lead after the short gave her 187.98 points overall and her second Grand Prix win of the season.

"My first [two] jumps were a little weird," she said. "My body was tense. I learned a lot today. This could happen any time. Overall, I still won first place, and I will try my best for my next competition."

There's been buzz about Kim's triple flip since the 19-year-old skipped the jump in her free skate at Trophee Eric Bompard last month, and it has troubled her in practice here.

Orser said earlier this week his skater had a few "mini meltdowns" with the jump back home in Toronto.

Kim denied there were any special troubles with the element.

"The flip was ok in the warm-up and the practice this morning," she said. "I think I was just nervous.

"At home, sometimes the Lutz upsets me, sometimes the flip, the Axel, the Salchow. This time I think [it was] the flip."

Later, she admitted that retying her skates during the six-minute warm-up may have thrown her off her game.

"I retied my skates too tight," she said. "These little things made me nervous a little bit. I couldn't concentrate on my program."

A bad day for Kim was a very good day for Flatt, who shone in her free to "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini."

The two-time U.S. silver medalist opened with a double Axel and flashed a big smile after landing her triple flip, triple toe combination. She went on to land five more clean triples, but ran into trouble on her final element, an intended change foot combination with a change of direction.

"I did not get credit for my last spin, because I had a distance of more than six feet between [re-centering] the spin," Flatt said.

Even with the miscue, the skater earned 116.11 points, a new personal best, and 174.91 overall.

"It certainly gave me a lot of confidence heading into U.S. nationals," Flatt said. "It was a great performance for me. I've been doing clean, or close to clean, programs in practice and I'm glad I'm finally competing the way I've been practicing."

Asked if it was disappointing that Kim beat her despite losing the free skate, Flatt responded, "She did have an incredible lead after the short program. It was an incredible short program, I have to admit it, but at the same time no one is perfect. We all have good days and bad days."

Hungarian veteran Julia Sebestyen, third after the short, held her spot to win the bronze medal with 159.03 points.

"After a good short program, I'm happy I could concentrate and could do a good free," Sebestyen said.

"After having a [winning] short in Moscow [at Rostelecom Cup] I worked a lot on my free to put everything together. I was a little tired in the middle of my program so I was happy I could do the triple toe, double toe at the end."

Skating to Gone with the Wind, Emily Hughes put out a solid performance, gaining credit for three clean triples, including a triple Lutz, double toe and triple flip, double toe. She placed seventh in the free and seventh overall with 135.31 points.

"It feels good," Hughes said. "I would have liked to have done some things differently, but I'm happy with getting the Lutz and the flip both credited for the first time this season. Now it's time to go back home and train, train, train."

Hughes, who has taken a year off her studies at Harvard University to train for a shot at a second Olympic team, added that she hoped to add more difficulty to her programs.

"Nationals is two months away and a lot can happen," she said. "I'm going to try to step up my game. I'm working on adding a triple-triple [combination]. Someone said yesterday the U.S. has had five ladies champions in the past five years and knowing I was almost one of them is incentive for me to get back on the podium."

2008 U.S. junior champion Alexe Gilles skated an energetic program to On the Town, but missed some jumps and placed 11th in the free and tenth overall.

"I think it was a fun program," Gilles said. "I guess I pulled my jumps a little, but I fought for them. I'm going to go home and work hard on improving the flow of the jumps and add little details to the program."