Finally, we have reached the ladies competition at Nationals. Seems like it took forever to get here. More than any other discipline, this one is completely up for grabs with lots of ladies with a shot at taking it (or second place which secures the other Olympic Berth).
Rachael Flatt - She's winning my poll on who people think will win the title. She's been the runner up for two straight years now and looks poised to finally take the crown. Her big moment this season so far was at Cancer.Net Skate America where she upset Kim Yu-Na in the free skate. Kim went on to take the title but Rachael proved she could be a heavy hitter. She has a crowd pleasing short program that could vault her ahead of the competition. A betting person would put their money on her...will they cash in?
Alissa Czisny - The defending champion has had an up and down season to this point. She did nab the silver medal at HomeSense Skate Canada but it wasn't off a great performance. Alissa is one of the most gifted skaters as far as artistry is concerned in the competition. Holding her back is those nerves; something she and her mentor, Brian Boitano, have been working on. If she can keep the nerves under check, land her jumps, and most importantly rotate her jumps, she'll have a great chance of making the Olympic Team.
Mirai Nagasu - She arrived in Spokane in good spirits. The 2008 Champ has looked far more confident this season but she is still getting those pesky jump downgrades from under-rotating her jumps. The only thing between her and an Olympic berth is a quarter turn cheat. She admitted during a USOC Presser in Chicago earlier in the season that she was a bit 'intimidated' by the presence of Sasha Cohen in the event. She'll need to get over the 'fear factor' and trust her training has prepared her for this moment.
Caroline Zhang - She's had a rough season to this point. She was late settling on a coach going from Li Mingzhu to Charlene Wong...then back to Li. After a so-so start in Paris she landed a devastating 8th place at HomeSense Skate Canada after numerous mistakes and jump downgrades. Along, with jump downgrades, Caroline is often slow and also receives edge calls on lots of her jumps. Her coach, Li, has also stated that she enters this championship with a back injury that will require constant therapy...further setbacks indeed. She'll need to do several things to be competitive for an Olympic berth in Spokane...land jumps, skate faster, and find a way to connect with the audience. When Caroline is on she has a natural way of relating to the crowd but if she's off, it just doesn't work.
Sasha Cohen - A good portion of the skating world (myself included) doubted she would even make it to this event. After withdrawals from Trophee Eric Bompard and Cancer.Net Skate America and continued talk of injury and unsuccessful triples...the writing 'seemed' to be on the wall. But her coach John Nicks said she has worked harder in the several weeks leading up to this event than she has ever worked in her life. We all took a deep breath when she actually arrived in Spokane and then our jaw dropped when in her first practice session she looked amazing! Now translating a solid practice to a solid competition is another issue. Artistically she can't be touched. People keep talking about her inexperience with the IJS but in fact she is one of the most experienced skaters, posting some of the systems top scores after its inception (her 2003 Skate Canada score is still #6 on the top score list). I had a sneaky suspicion that if she showed up in Spokane she'd be up to the challenge. Olympics bound for the third time?
Emily Hughes - Finally making it back to Nationals after a two year hiatus, she's kind of the wildcard in the bunch. Spokane ice has been good to her, the last time she was at Nationals was here (2007) and she was the silver medalist. A silver medal here would send her back to the Olympics again. At Cancer.Net Skate America she looked a tad rusty but was giving it good attack. If she worked out the rust and is rotating her jumps fully (that is what did her in at Skate America) and can bring that spark that comes natural to her (all Hughes'?), I suspect she'll be in the hunt for a medal and perhaps a trip to the Olympics.
Ashley Wagner - Ashley was the lone American woman to make the Grand Prix Final where she placed a respectable 4th. She's looked solid in practice leading up to the event and has seemed very focused. She's stated that rather than attempting lots of tricky triples, she's just trying to do what she can do well and earn positive GOE's. Third in 2008, fourth in 2009, is 2010 her year? In my poll she is in second place for those predicting who will win this competition. She's been the U.S. leading lady so far this season...does it continue with a trip to Vancouver?