SPOKANE - Rachael Flatt stunned almost everybody but herself Saturday night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The crowd, some coaches and even 1984 gold medalist-turned-NBC commentator Scott Hamilton were surprised when Flatt blew away the field to win the national title and a spot in next month’s Olympics.
The surprise wasn’t her score of 200.11 points, but rather that Mirai Nagasu only scored 188.78 points in a program the crowd clearly treated as the highlight of the evening.
“I blew it,” Hamilton said after the competition of his TV commentary. “I thought (Nagasu) won.”
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While the crowd showered 16-year-old Nagasu with stuffed animals, flowers and a standing ovation that lasted nearly a minute, the judges were busy downgrading three of her triple jumps.
Nagasu settled for silver and the other U.S. Olympic spot.
“I’m glad I didn’t skate my best because I know for the Olympics I have a lot to work on,” Nagasu said.
Flatt, who has applied to four of the eight Ivy League universities, leaped from third to win the title.
“(Starting in third) certainly energized me and gave me a lot of motivation to improve upon that performance,” Flatt said. “And I think I accomplished that.”
Sasha Cohen, the ’06 Olympic silver medalist, hadn’t skated competitively for four years prior to the championships, and it was evident Saturday. After delighting the crowd Thursday with an electrifying short program, Cohen stumbled through her free skate, failing to stick at least three jumps and falling once. The crowd remained seated and offered little more than polite applause.
“Of course, it wasn’t the skate that I wanted to skate,” Cohen said. “… There wasn’t any regret or wishing I could do it again. … (I’m) just really proud of where this year has brought me.”
Cohen was a distant fourth with 174.28 points, and acknowledged that Flatt, Nagasu and Ashley Wagner are now America’s ice stars.
“The U.S. girls are really talented,” Cohen said. “They’re great, they’re cute, they’re young … and it was really fun to see how excited they were and watch them.”
Wagner, who lived briefly in Tacoma when her father was stationed at Fort Lewis, finished third with 184.70 points and will have to settle for being an alternate to the games.
Wagner had the second-best free skate, but a fall in Thursday’s short program proved to be her undoing. Had Flatt and Alissa Czisny performed their short programs at the ’09 World Championships as well as they did their long programs, the U.S. would have had three spots in the Olympics.
“I’m just focusing on how far I’ve come this year,” Wagner, 18, said. “It’s been an incredibly stressful year. The fact that I made it to these nationals and put out what I did, I’m so happy with that.”
Defending national champion Czisny suffered a fall early in her program and fell from seventh to 10th place.
Spokane will break the nationals’ attendance record of 155,000 it set in ’07. Including tickets sold for today’s exhibition, attendance for the 10-day event is 155,496. However, the number could increase because tickets are still available for today’s event.
White, Davis repeat
The torch has been passed. Whether or not it’s a torch holding the Olympic flame is yet to be determined.
Skating to a spine-tingling score from “Phantom of the Opera” in front of 8,090 spectators, Meryl Davis and Charlie White beat ’06 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto for the first time in their careers.
“To beat such an amazing team with the credentials that they have is huge for us,” White said.
For Belbin and Agosto, it’s the first time in their last six trips to nationals they haven’t won. And for Davis and White, it is their second consecutive title. (Belbin and Agosto didn’t skate last year because of an injury.)
Now both, along with Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, are on their way to the Olympics.
“It’s important in your home country to come out on top, especially going to the Olympics or Worlds,” White said. “Internationally, the reputation that comes along with it is very important.
“What we are trying to do at the Olympics is win. So we want every little bit that can help us.”
The three Olympic-bound teams were fairly emotional afterward. Bates and White are roommates, and White and Belbin have dated.
“It was a very special moment for me,” White said of watching Bates and Samuelson claim bronze. “Obviously, we try to keep skating out of our living situation, but with the Olympics coming up we have been kind of talking about it. ... I see him every day and I know how much he puts into it.”
Belbin and Agosto and Davis and White both will be among the favorites in Vancouver.
“The U.S. ice dancing field today is possibly deeper than it’s ever been,” Davis said.
Belbin and Agosto are leaning toward retiring after this season and they were happy with what might have been their final performance at nationals regardless of coming up 3.78 points short of the title.
“We kind of went into (this year) with more satisfaction,” Belbin said. “And I think that it can be misunderstood that we’ve lost some of that drive. We haven’t. We’ve just learned that there is always going to be more and you are always going to want to improve. You are always going to want to do better. But we have to learn how to enjoy the process.
“... That’s what we are doing this year for the first time ever and it’s creating such a poetic final season for us.”
While that pair’s journey is ending, Samuelson, 19, and Bates, 20, are just getting started. They didn’t think they’d be a contender for an Olympic spot until 2014.
“It’s cliché to say you’re speechless,” Bates said, “but it’s hard to think of the right adjectives.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497