Alissa Czisny wins 2nd national title

Updated: January 30, 2011, 10:06 AM ET
Associated Press

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Alissa Czisny knew what people thought of her.

Fragile. Inconsistent. Can't handle the pressure. A disappointment.

Now there's only one word to describe her: champion.

[+] EnlargeAlissa Czisny
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAlissa Czisny won her second title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night.

Czisny proved she finally has the mettle to match her considerable talent in winning her second title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, keeping her cool while Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu wilted under the pressure.

"This one definitely means more to me," Czisny said. "The first one is always the first one. But to win with two good performances made this one a lot sweeter. Also, to be able to come back after everything that happened last year, to start fresh as a skater, just confirmed I made the right choices."

Her final score of 191.24 points was almost eight better than Flatt, astonishing considering the three previous champions began the night separated by only a point, the equivalent of one shaky landing.

Flatt, the defending champ, scored 183.38 while Nagasu was a distant -- and disappointing -- third at 177.26.

Earlier Saturday, Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin won their first pairs title with what could be the most powerful performance of the entire competition. Their angelic "Ave Maria" is a tribute to Coughlin's mother, Stacy, who got him started in skating and passed away last February.

"I told myself no matter what we did today, to get out there on the ice and perform that program was going to be a happy moment for me," said Coughlin, who buried his face in Yankowskas' hands when they finished.

Also, Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White easily won their third straight dance title to lead a 1-2-3 sweep by their rink in Canton, Mich. Davis and White's only losses over the last two seasons are to Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, but their steamy tango served notice they intend to end the American oh-fer atop the world dance podium.

No one has ever questioned Czisny's athleticism, beauty or elegance. Her head, however, was a different matter.

After winning the title in 2009, she flopped at worlds, helping cost the Americans a third spot at the Vancouver Olympics. She was out of the running for Vancouver after a dismal performance in the short program, an experience she called a "heartbreak" earlier this week.

But she's gone through intense introspection since then, coming out of it a much stronger person and skater. She also switched coaches, training now with 1994 world champion Yuka Sato and her husband Jason Dungjen, and she has blossomed with their support.

[+] EnlargeYankowskas/Coughlin
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesCaitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin smile after winning the U.S. pairs figure skating championship with an emotional routine set to "Ave Maria."

"It's hard to say one thing because it's everything," Czisny said. "But the very first thing was that they believed in me, and I was at a point where not too many probably believed in me."

This was the signature performance of her career thus far, showing all of her trademark elegance and more than a little guts. She had to fight hard to save the landing on a triple loop, and all of the rest of her jumps -- six triples, three of which were in combination -- were flawless. Skating to George Winston's "Winter into Spring," she looked both delicate and powerful.

Her edge quality is so first-class, her tracings could be sold as artwork. Her spirals were exquisite, prompting the oohs and aahs Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen used to hear.

When her scores were posted, Czisny's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open.

Though Czisny would never say it out aloud, she may as well have looked at her younger two challengers and said, "Go ahead, top this. I dare you."

Neither could.

Flatt's performance was, well, flat. Looking as if she was trying to play it safe instead of attacking as she usually does, the landing of her double axel-triple toe combo was shaky and she then watered down a planned triple lutz into a double. She didn't have anywhere close to her usual speed, either.

"It certainly wasn't my best," Flatt said. "I accomplished what I needed to here to make sure I could move on to the rest of my season."

Nagasu is supremely talented, and has the potential to be the kind of breakout star U.S. figure skating has craved since Kwan and Cohen hung it up. But the 17-year-old doesn't have quite the confidence in herself others do, and those doubts tend to come out at the most inopportune times.

Like Saturday.

Her blades were wiggling as she went into her first jump, a triple lutz-double toe combination, and her program was almost one dimensional she displayed so little of her usual personality.

"The thing I'm most disappointed about is I wasn't able to get the audience on their feet. I just let my nerves get the best of me," Nagasu said. "As a skater I learned a lot. Sometimes it's not always your day. But it's not like my career is over. I'm just going to take the bronze medal and run away."

Nagasu lost the title when she stepped out of the landing of her Ina Bauer into a double axel, and lost her spot on the world team when she two-footed the landing of her death drop and pretty much stopped spinning.

The U.S. women have only two spots for a third straight year.

Nagasu looked downcast as she waited for her marks, and appeared to be fighting back tears when she heard the chasm that stood between her and Czisny.

"I'm actually really disappointed I don't get to go to worlds. It's in Japan and that's where the rest of my family is," said Nagasu, whose parents are Japanese immigrants. "Sometimes things aren't meant to be."


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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