Rachael Flatt, Mirai Nagasu are headed to Olympics after 1-2 finish at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010

SPOKANE, WASH. -- On a night of shattering nerves and incredibly high stakes, two high school girls stood up to the pressure and stayed on their feet, clinching Olympic slots while ensuring that Sasha Cohen's comeback after a four-year absence from figure skating competition came to a sudden and painful conclusion.

Rachael Flatt, 17, and Mirai Nagasu, 16, ended the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with triumphant performances in Saturday's long program, finishing first and second overall. Their efforts won them trips to the February Olympics in Vancouver while blunting a thrilling comeback by Alexandria's Ashley Wagner, 18, who executed an enthralling free skate but ended up just shy of an Olympic spot.

Cohen, 25, meantime, dropped to fourth place after one fall and several obvious mistakes. She had started the night in second behind Nagasu.

"It wasn't the skate I wanted," Cohen said. "I could still really appreciate as a part of my career the challenge I embraced and all of the obstacles I overcame to be here. That was really special to me."

Wagner's free skate ranked second only to Flatt's, but it wasn't enough to overcome her fourth-place finish after Thursday's short program. Her overall score left her 4.08 out of second place.

The Olympic team was announced more than two hours after the conclusion of the competition.

"Either way I'm fine," Wagner, a recent graduate of West Potomac High, had said before the selection was announced. "I'm focusing on how far I've come this year. It was such a stressful year . . . third place isn't actually too bad considering the year I've had."

Flatt scored 200.11 overall after a powerful, aggressive long program in which she hit seven triple jumps. Nagasu, who skated last, finished with 188.78 overall, but her free-skate score of 118.72 baffled the crowd and trailed that of Wagner, who had earned 122.15. Wagner tallied 184.70 overall and Cohen, 174.28.

"I certainly have things to improve upon; my performances were not perfect," Flatt said. But "I'm learning how to compete well under different situations, especially under more pressure than I'm used to."

Nagasu, who won the U.S. title in 2008 at age 14, electrified the arena with her seemingly flawless skate, but she received downgrades on several of her triple jumps, penalties that cost her at least 10 or 11 points. When her scores were announced, the audience murmured with disappointment and confusion, and her coach, Frank Carroll, said he disagreed with two of the calls.

Even NBC announcer Scott Hamilton said the low marks caught him by surprise.

"I think she came away with the performance that was the highest received by the audience," Hamilton said. Even "I got caught up in the performance."

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