6:37 PM EDT, October 30, 2012
Six seasons ago, the post-Michelle Kwan era in U.S. women’s skating appeared to be filling with promise.
Olympian Kimmie Meissner went to the 2007 U.S. Championships as the reigning world champion.
Alissa Czisny, the other veteran, seemed on the verge of reaching her immense potential by winning the free skate at those U.S. Championships.
Three teeny boppers, Mirai Nagasu (then 13), Caroline Zhang (13) and Rachael Flatt (14), were the talk of those 2007 nationals. They went on to sweep the medals at the world juniors in 2008, with Flatt winning.
Only three of those five still are active, and that presumes Czisny will come back from hip surgery in time for her first planned competition later this fall.
None looks likely to make the U.S. team for the 2014 Olympics.
They haven’t been without success. Czisny won two U.S. titles, Flatt and Nagasu – who each skated at the 2010 Olympics - one apiece.
But none – nor any of their compatriots - has won a world or Olympic medal in the years since Meissner’s title.
Meissner gave in to a litany of injuries after the 2008 season.
U.S. Figure Skating has announced Tuesday Flatt is hanging it up for this season with leg and ankle problems.
Her body no longer could withstand attempts to end a free fall that began when she made the foolhardy decision to compete at the 2011 worlds with a bad leg injury. One can only hope Flatt, a Stanford sophomore, will stop for good rather than risk long-term physical damage in an ill-advised attempt to try for a second Olympics.
Nagasu, a two-time U.S. champion who finished a strong fourth at the 2010 OIympics, has foundered since.
After two miserable seasons, Zhang appeared to have resurrected her career last year, only to slog into ninth place (of 10) at last weekend’s Skate Canada Grand Prix event.
So where does that leave U.S. figure skating officials with just 16 months before the next Winter Games?
Praying Ashley Wagner stays healthy.
Wagner, the reigning U.S. champion who was fourth at the 2012 worlds, began this season with an impressive performance at Skate America – her first senior Grand Prix victory in 11 appearances on that circuit since 2007. More significantly, she skated with a self-assurance that seemed to say last season was no fluke.
The question of who else might join her on the 2014 Olympic team – which could have just two U.S. women’s spots – is impossible to answer.
The possibilities include Czisny, Agnes Zawadzki, Gracie Gold and, surprisingly, Christina Gao.
(Yes, that doesn’t include Nagasu for now. She needs to provide some evidence of getting out of a long funk. Her first chance comes at this week’s Cup of China.)
Czisny, 25. imploded so badly at last year’s worlds (22nd place) that she needs a reversal as dramatic as what she did from 2010 to 2011, when she went from 10th to first at nationals and was a solid fifth at worlds.
Zawadzki, still just 18, remains inconsistent. Gold, brilliant as a junior last season, brings the biggest upside but has struggled at her two senior events this season.
Gao is the fascinating X factor.
Three straight fifth-place finishes at nationals sent the 18-year-old into her freshman year at Harvard with a feeling the time had come to stop skating. She changed her mind, went to Skate America and put together two near flawless skates - with a short program of ethereal delight – to finish second.
If Gao can skate as well again at her second Grand Prix event 2 ½ weeks from now in Paris, she becomes the favorite to win the second spot on this season’s world team.
In January, Wagner will try to be the first U.S. woman since 2005 to win consecutive U.S. titles.
That was when Michelle Kwan won her eighth straight.
There have been six different champions since.
And a virtually lost generation.
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