Figure Skating: U.S. Olympic Team Set

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held over the weekend in Spokane, Wash. Not only did the event decide who are the best U.S. skaters, it also decided who would be on the U.S. Olympic team. The Vancouver Olympics start in three weeks. USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan talks to Steve Inskeep about the Olympic trials.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well, the United States completed the selection of its Olympic skating team over the weekend, and those skaters will be competing in less than three weeks at the Winter Games in Vancouver. Christine Brennan covered the U.S. figure skating championships for USA Today and joins us in the studio. Shes a regular guest here.

Christine, welcome back.

Ms. CHRISTINE BRENNAN (Columnist, USA Today): Well, thanks, Steve. Great to be here.

INSKEEP: Shes with us live. So which American skaters have the best chance to win a medal?

Ms. BRENNAN: Steve, believe it or not its in ice dancing. And were a dancing nation. Dancing with the Stars, its carried over right to ice.

INSKEEP: Ok.

Ms. BRENNAN: In 2006, Tanith Belbin, Ben Agosto won the Olympic silver medal, big surprise. That inspired a whole generation of young kids on the ice to think that they, too, could win an Olympic medal.

And one ice dance team that was with them in Detroit, the Detroit suburbs, Meryl Davis, Charlie White were so inspired that they have now beaten Belbin and Agosto at the national championships. White and Davis intricate, innovative. Theyre young. Theyre fresh. And they go in as Olympic medal hopefuls, even maybe Olympic gold medal hopefuls. And I know...

INSKEEP: You wouldnt call them favorites, but theyre hopefuls.

Ms. BRENNAN: Well, in ice dancing its a point system now, but you still got the old Eastern bloc and I don't know that theyre going to love the fact that theres two great ice dance teams now for the U.S.

INSKEEP: Wow. Now, the womens event is always one of the glamour events here. Whos going to be representing the Americans there?

Ms. BRENNAN: Its the athlete and the artist. The old traditional argument about figure skating: What is it, art or athleticism. Well, its both. And the athlete won, Rachael Flatt, 17 years old. Shes the daughter of a molecular biologist mother and a biochemical engineer father.

Dorothy Hamill, who works with her, says she loves her brain. I love her triple jumps. Shes got seven of those. And she just packs the program. Figure skating has become kind of pinball on ice. You rack up points here, there, everywhere. Rachael Flatt is excellent at that, steady, solid. Not necessarily beautiful on the ice, but shes going to be standing whenever else is wilting under the pressure.

And then the flipside of that, Mirai Nagasu. She won the world title - or the national title, excuse me, two years ago at 14. Now, shes 16. She crumbled under the pressure, crying everywhere. Her coach finally said theres no crying in figure skating. Of course theres crying in figure skating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Theres no crying in baseball. But...

INSKEEP: Well, that we can see. But you have...

Ms. BRENNAN: Right. We have kids in...

INSKEEP: (Unintelligible)

Ms. BRENNAN: But for both sports there certainly have been some tears shed. But Mirai Nagasu is delightful. And shes got the cute factor, the energy, the exuberance of youth. And so youve got a 16 and a 17-year-old and theyre going to represent the U.S.

Id expect to see Flatt maybe trying to win a bronze. Although, Id say that its going to be a tough womens competition. And Nagasu, though, is really the Energizer bunny out there.

INSKEEP: You pointed out to us the other day that the women did not have as good a chance at medals as they have in the past. But the men do seem to have a good chance.

Ms. BRENNAN: They do. And the winner there was Jeremy Abbott, two-time national champ. Evan Lysacek, though, I think still has the odds on better chance to win a medal. Lysacek won the world title last year.

Lysacek is also coached by Frank Harold, the man who coaches Mirai Nagasu, the one who said no crying in skating. But I think Yevgeny Plushenko, the Russian who won in 06, is back, skating better than before.

So theres about eight men, Steve, who could win an Olympic gold medal. Ive never seen that deep of a field.

INSKEEP: Im curious. Do the Americans compete against each other as much as they do against anybody from outside?

Ms. BRENNAN: Thats a great question. They go as a team, quote, unquote. But absolutely. Its an individual sport. And, yeah, theyre going against each other, even as theyre all eating, you know, dinner together and rooming together in the Olympic dorms.

INSKEEP: And maybe crying together, but not on the ice.

Ms. BRENNAN: No crying on the ice.

INSKEEP: Christine, always good to talk with you.

Ms. BRENNAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Christine Brennan of USA Today.

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