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Nagasu narrowly edges Cohen in short program

.43 separates top two headed into Saturday's free skate

Mirai Nagasu's programs were choreographed by Lori Nichol.
Mirai Nagasu's programs were choreographed by Lori Nichol. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2010) - Frank Carroll's no-crying rule seems to be working for his pupil, Mirai Nagasu.

And nearly four years away from competition doesn't seem to have hurt Sasha Cohen.

The two former U.S. champions lit up Spokane Arena with glowing short programs and head into the free skate with Cohen trailing Nagasu by just .43.

Rachael Flatt, the two-time U.S. silver medalist, hit a triple-triple combination in her short, and is just .28 behind the second-place Cohen.

Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion who took the ice in tears at the U.S. Championships last season, is well on her way to becoming a star re-born after an exuberant performance full of speed and joy.

"That was all my love of skating, because last year [it] was a little bit difficult for me to skate from the heart," Nagasu, 16, said.

"I just let everything out, my facial expressions, since [at Skate Canada] I skated like I was in outer space or something. My jumps have become more consistent, so I try to focus on having fun out there."

Skating to selections from the Pirates of the Carribbean soundtrack, Nagasu's jumps -- including a triple Lutz, double toe; triple flip; and an Ina Bauer into a double Axel -- looked light and secure. She showed superb extension on her spirals, and the closing split position in her combination spin brought the crowd to roaring to its feet.

Nagasu earned 70.06 points, a shade lower than the 70.23 she tallied en route to the title in 2008.

"In practice, I've seen her better," Carroll said. "Sometimes she has a little trouble letting it out and proving herself. I hope the long program will be just as good.

"She has to believe she can perform and have personality and also hit the elements. In the past, she's had trouble doing that. And no more tears."

Nagasu agreed, saying, "It takes too much energy to cry, and after I cry, I become too tired. So no more crying; just fun emotions."

Cohen matched the teenager jump for jump; interestingly, neither skater received an edge call on their triple Lutz, although Nagasu did get a warning, which carries no penalty.

The 25-year-old skater looked a bit conservative at the start of her short to "Espana Cani," but soon had the crowd clapping along to her straight-line steps. By the time she grasped her foot for a full split in her closing combination spin, all of the old fire and energy had returned.

"I was just taking it one step at a time," Cohen said.

"I was a little bit nervous as I was skating on the ice to get ready, but I just walked through everything and got comfortable, and then I tried to let it go and stay in the moment."

Cohen acknowledged that she defied many naysayers simply by showing up after withdrawing from both Trophee Eric Bompard and Skate America.

"Everyone kept telling me, even my friends, 'No one thinks you're coming' and I'm like, 'Don't tell me that,'" she said. "I can't help what other people think. It has been a while. And I really wanted to be at the Grand Prix [events], but I wasn't able to, because of my injuries."

"She's deceptive," said her longtime coach, John Nicks. "She looks like a petite China doll, but what you have is a tough young lady."

Flatt, the first of the main contenders to skate, also laid down a solid performance.

While the 17-year-old lacked some of Nagasu and Cohen's flair, she hit a triple flip, triple toe combination in her program to "Sing, Sing, Sing."

"It was a great performance for me; I'm very excited with how that went," Flatt said. "It was a great improvement over Skate America, so I'm very happy about that.

"I was a little anxious after I landed my triple flip; it was probably one of the worst landings I've had on my triple-triple all week. I just trusted my training at that point and pulled in and landed the toe."

Ashley Wagner, fourth at the U.S. Championships last season, placed fourth here with 62.55 points, despite falling on a triple Lutz.

"Fourth place is a lot better than 12th place, which is where I was after the short last season," Wagner, 18, said.

"I'm happy with the scores, considering what I did."

Two new names -- Christina Gao and Amanda Dobbs -- are fifth and sixth, respectively.