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Saturday, January 26, 2008
Nagasu recovers from fall, becomes second youngest to win title

Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Now this is what figure skating has been looking for.

Mirai Nagasu delighted the crowd -- and herself -- with a refreshing and entertaining show at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night. Oh yeah, the 14-year-old became the second-youngest woman to win the U.S. title, too.

Mirai Nagasu
Mirai Nagasu, 14, skates Saturday en route to becoming the second-youngest woman to win the U.S. Championships.

That other mighty mite, Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski, ended up doing pretty well for herself.

When her scores flashed, Nagasu looked at the screen with curiosity. When she heard she'd won, she said, "What?" then clapped her hands to her face and broke into a grin.

"I am very excited and speechless for words," Nagasu said.

Nagasu is too young to go to the world championships in March; skaters now must be 15 by the previous July 1, and she won't even turn 15 until April. Rachael Flatt, who finished second, missed the cutoff by three weeks and will have to sit worlds out, too. Ashley Wagner finished third. She is eligible for worlds.

Figure skating has been in the doldrums the last few years, searching for a new star since Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen decided to try new things. Nagasu appears to fill that bill.

She's a breath of fresh air, playing on her youth and size -- she's 4-foot-11 -- instead of trying to be something she's not.

Skating to "Coppelia," the story of a doll that comes to life, she was absolutely charming.

She fell on her opening jump, a double axel, but she very quickly regrouped.

"The fall on the double axel was like a kick in the butt," she said. "After that, I was like, 'Attack!' "

She performed perfectly in character, stiffly holding her arms out to the side like a lifeless doll. As she was wound up, she jerked her arms and her torso, looking like a doll coming to life. When she bounced upward, the audience laughed.

Fully alive, she danced across the ice with light and airy footwork. She landed six triple jumps, three in combination, and showed great stamina by picking up speed as the program went along.

Perhaps most impressive: This is the first time Nagasu has competed a 4-minute program. She spent the fall on the junior international circuit, where she only had to do a 3-minute routine.

Flatt's skating was as bright as the smile that was on her face from the time she took the ice to the time she left it. In third place after the short program, she overtook Wagner with a routine that included playful footwork and seven triple jumps.

Wagner was powerful, making even her jumps at the end of the program look easy. She used everything in her performance, including her hair. Her ponytail bobbed and swished, and she swung it around for emphasis a couple of times.

Defending champion Kimmie Meissner's stunning decline continued with another mistake-filled program. Two years after winning the world title, she could only manage a seventh-place finish here, the first U.S. woman since Lipinski in 1998 to fail to defend her title.

"I didn't have a good competition here, which is very unfortunate," Meissner said. "I'm so upset. I need to think about what I did here and why, and I need to fix it."

She's been struggling all season. After a disastrous showing at last month's Grand Prix final, where she finished dead last in the six-woman field, she retooled her entire free skate.

It didn't work.

She fell on her first two jumps, a triple flip and a triple lutz, and managed only two clean triple jumps. She did a double axel-double toe loop combination twice, meaning one won't count. She was downcast as she left the ice, and the audience tried to cheer her with applause as she waited for her marks. She mouthed "Thank you," but tears filled her eyes when she saw the scores.

"It's more mental," Meissner said when asked what is wrong. "I was pretty confident, but I just lost it."