Rachael Flatt, Mirai Nagasu will face stiff Olympic challenge

For someone who insisted all last week that the Olympics in which she hoped to skate were four years away, Mirai Nagasu sure knew a lot about the spoils she had earned for making the U.S. Olympic team that will compete at the Vancouver Winter Games next month.

Nagasu said she wanted to attend many Olympic events since “we get the best seats because we’re athletes.

“And,” she added, “I’m really excited about all the free stuff we’ll get. I hope a medal will come too.”

The free tickets, clothing from underwear to fancy hats, luggage and other swag from sponsors are guaranteed. A medal is much less likely for Nagasu and her teammate in the 2010 women’s event, Rachael Flatt.

“Bring it on,” Nagasu said.

U.S. female skaters have not left an Olympics without precious metal since 1964, three years after the plane crash that killed the entire U.S. world team.

Few expect either Flatt, who won her first U.S. title Saturday night, or Nagasu, the runner-up, to break into the Asian Big Three -- South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na and Japanese skaters Mao Asada and Miki Ando, each of whom has won the world title (and seven of the nine world medals) the last three years.

“It’s just Rachael and me, and we’re just going to blow them away,” Nagasu insisted, mixing the insouciance of youth with a motor mouth that thankfully has no governor.

Not since Canada’s Liz Manley in 1988 has any woman won an Olympic medal without having first won a world medal. The last U.S. woman to do it was Janet Lynn in 1972.

Flatt has skated in one world meet, finishing fifth last March. Nagasu never has competed at worlds, having been below the minimum age when she won nationals in 2008.

“We need to embrace the challenge, and I’m sure we’re both up for it,” Flatt said. “We’re young and spirited.”

Flatt, 17, and Nagasu, 16, are among the youngest U.S. Olympic skaters in history, although age is hardly the determining factor in Olympic success. Tara Lipinski was 15 and Michelle Kwan 17 when they finished 1-2 at the 1998 Olympics, but each had won a world title before that.

The steadiness of Flatt’s skating the last two years, as clearly evidenced by her winning nationals with two clean programs, may put her in a position to claim a medal if one or more of the Big Three falters. Flatt beat Kim in the long program at Skate America in November when the South Korean fell on a jump.

“My consistency bodes well for me,” Flatt said.

The technical flaws that cost Nagasu the title Saturday, under-rotated jumps, have been a consistent problem for her that international judges have viewed even more harshly than the U.S. panel did.

Seven of Nagasu’s jumps were downgraded in the free skates at two Grand Prix events this season. Once judges find a flaw, they tend to focus on it even more and sometimes are blind to the idea it has been corrected.

The U.S. men, who have won only one bronze medal in the last four Olympics, could claim their first gold since Brian Boitano’s in 1988 or wind up with nothing, so deep is the field coming to Vancouver.

“The men’s event will be incredible,” said two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser of Canada.

At least seven men are solid medal contenders, including Evan Lysacek, the reigning world champion, and Jeremy Abbott, who won a second straight U.S. title last week. Abbott’s skating in Spokane was good enough to be in the mix for Olympic gold, but he finished 11th in the last two worlds.

The U.S. is sending its strongest ice dance contingent ever to the Olympics, and at least one medal seems a certainty for either new U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White or 2006 silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

Pairs? The two U.S. teams won’t end a five-Olympics medal drought. Making the top six would be a triumph.