by Ralph Routon
Rachael Flatt of Colorado Springs had nothing to regret about her Olympic debut Tuesday night in the ladies short program at Pacific Coliseum.
Taking the ice after some stunning performances by the world's top-ranked skaters, including Canadian champion Joannie Rochette setting aside the grief of her mother's death, Flatt still fought through pressure and nerves to place a strong fifth with a clean, energetic performance. That gives her a chance for a medal going into the long program Thursday night.
And given how well the other contenders skated, being fifth and less than a point out of fourth was a fitting placement for Flatt.
South Korean world champion Kim Yu-Na, nailing every element and mixing in abundant style along the way, took a sizable lead with 78.50 points. Next was Japan's Mao Asada, who landed the night's only triple axel jump en route to earning second place with 73.78 points.
The pro-Canadian crowd clearly was moved by Rochette, who was able to skate less than 72 hours after her mother died of a massive heart attack soon after arriving in Vancouver to share in her daughter's Olympic experience. Rochette, ranked second in the world, bravely fought through her program and was a solid third with 71.36 points, then she let her emotions flow as soon as the music stopped.
Flatt's turn came just two skaters later, and the 17-year-old from Cheyenne Mountain High School looked expressive and relaxed after landing her opening triple-triple jump combination. The routine was worth 64.64 points, down from the 69.35 she received at the U.S. championships last month, but that difference could be attributed to the tougher international judges.
She was fourth until the final skater, former world champion Miki Ando of Japan, skated a comparable program and finished just ahead of Flatt at 64.76.
The other American, 16-year-old Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia, Calif., was sixth at 63.76 after turning her triple-triple combination into a triple-double.
Afterward, Flatt called her program "better than Nationals, even though my score wasn't as good. It's a new personal best for me internationally. I had the time of my life."
Flatt admitted being less than perfect on landing a triple lutz, her choice for the required separate triple jump.
"It was a little shaky," she said. "I got ahead of myself. I was having a little too much fun and had a little too much energy."