by Ralph Routon
Mirai Nagasu revived her charisma from the Olympics. Alissa Czisny looked like the champion she was two years ago. Rachael Flatt unveiled the kind of extra energy that many thought she needed.
And a newcomer, Agnes Zawadzki, showed Thursday night that she could upstage everyone else in the ladies' competition at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C.
Nagasu won the short program event, but the margin is so close that any of the top four could win in the free program Saturday night, to be televised nationally by NBC (8 p.m. Mountain time). The 17-year-old from Pasadena, Calif., came away with 63.35 points.
Just behind her, at 62.50, is Czisny, who won the 2009 national title but fell apart and finished 10th last year. Czisny, 23, made no mistakes and showed the confidence that won her the early-season Grand Prix international title.
Then there's Flatt, the 18-year-old Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate and defending U.S. champion. After being hampered by injuries in December, she put together a new short program and debuted it impressively, earning a score of 62.32.
In fact, Flatt very well might have won the short program, except that her program-opening jump combination, a triple lutz-triple loop, turned into a triple double instead. But she still was satisfied, telling media she felt it was a "strong showing" to start the event.
But the biggest surprise had to be Zawadzki, a 16-year-old from Colorado Springs skating at the senior level nationally for the first time. The 2010 U.S. junior champion, she skated strongly to finish fourth in the short program at 61.54 points, making her a clear-cut medal contender if any of the top three might falter in the free program.
Only two of those four, however, will qualify for the 2011 World Championships in March at Tokyo. They'll be skating in the final group Saturday night.
It was a disappointing night for another Colorado Springs skater. Alexe Gilles, who had hoped to make a big move upward from her ninth-place finish a year ago, is 11th after the short program.