SPOKANE, Wash. - Sasha Cohen's comeback appears to be over while the adventure is just beginning for Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu.
Flatt won her first title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, overpowering the rest of the field with a program that will stack up technically with anyone in the world. She scored 200.11 points, finishing more than 10 points ahead of the entertaining and energetic Nagasu.
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The Olympic team was to be named later, but it's not likely the selection committee will stray from the teenagers who finished 1-2.
Cohen, meanwhile, will be left to wonder "what if." The Olympic silver medalist was skating in her first competition since the 2006 worlds, and her eight-month comeback was beset by challenges, from injuries to equipment problems. But what cost her in the end was her own inconsistency.
"I was disappointed with my free skate. It wasn't what I was looking for, but I still enjoyed being out there and performing for the audience," Cohen said. "I was really happy I could come back to fight and be here after four years."
As beautiful to watch as Cohen is, the knock has always been her ability - or lack thereof - to deliver when it matters most. She has never done clean short and long programs in the same major competition, and that dubious streak continued here. She wound up a distant fourth.
Earlier Saturday, Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their second straight ice dance title, beating Olympic and world silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto for the first time in their careers. Long overshadowed by Belbin and Agosto - at home and internationally - Davis and White left little doubt they are now equal to their friends and former training partners, as well as the other top teams in the world.
Their score of 222.29 was almost four points ahead of Belbin and Agosto.
Flatt, runner-up the last two years, beat world champ Yu-na Kim in the free skate at Skate America, and she showed the same kind of mettle Saturday night. In third after the short program - though not by much - Flatt put on a jumping clinic. She did seven triples, most of them in combination including a triple flip-triple toe loop combo.
She doesn't have Nagasu or Cohen's polish, but you could almost see her shoulders relax and her smile widen with each trick she finished. By the time her "Rhapsody on the Theme of Paganini" was done, her grin was so bright it lit up the entire arena.
Even she was stunned by her marks, though, her jaw dropping when she saw a 200 flash.
But Nagasu was still to skate, and she put down quite the challenge.
Nagasu was delightful when she won the 2008 title, a perky 14-year-old who was too young to be intimidated. But she struggled last year, undone by a growth spurt, an injury and ordinary teenage angst. She switched to coach Frank Carroll last spring and came here wanting to prove she was "the future" of U.S. skating.
Consider that one done.
Her "Carmen" program would be a hit at any ice show, an entertaining mix of sauce, sass and power. She started with a seductive little dance and flew from there. Her jumps were huge, a double axel-triple toe combination that would have gone from blue to blue line had this been a hockey rink.
Her spins are fantastic, filled with so many positions and edge changes her entire body must be made of cartilage. And unlike most skaters, she fills every second of her program, doing intricate and challenging steps into her jumps.
She was clearly the crowd favorite, and she clapped her hands to her head as if she couldn't believe it when she finished.
Cohen probably can't believe this finish, either.
She announced her comeback in May with hopes of making her third Olympic team. And she looked beautiful, the shades of grey in her dress lightening from the bottom of the skirt until it became almost smoky blue around her neck, which was trimmed in sparkly silver-trimmed cutouts.
Unfortunately, her program didn't match the luster of her costume.
Cohen had only two triple jumps that were obviously clean, appearing to two-foot the first jump in her opening triple lutz-double toe combination and then step out of the second jump. She also looked as if she slightly two-footed the first jump in her triple flip-double toe combo.
There was no question that she botched the triple loop, landing with her skates crossed on the ice, and she fell on her triple flip. It was so awkward the audience began clapping after the fall on the triple flip, as if to buck up the star. Her spins were short, and her footwork was more simple than you'd expect of someone of her caliber.
But Cohen can take comfort in the fact that her presence, regardless of how brief, brought back the good old days, when skating had rock-star status, the ladies ruled and Tonya, Nancy, Michelle and Tara were so big they needed only one name. Even the final warmup was electric, with everyone watching intently to see if they could get an early read on who was on and who was off.