The night before her senior-level debut, Mirai Nagasu couldn't sleep. Even her mother scolded her, reminding the 14-year-old skater how much rest she would need before the women's short program at the national championships.
Nagasu lay in bed visualizing what Thursday night would feel like. But even in her sweetest dreams, she couldn't imagine just how magical her performance would be. In a '60s-styled hot-pink dress, the southern Californian romped through a program overflowing with charm and bubbly personality, overwhelming the crowd -- and her competition -- at Xcel Energy Center.
Nagasu earned 70.23 points, a personal best by a large margin. Ashley Wagner, also making her senior debut at nationals, and Rachael Flatt, another of skating's young stars, were second and third with scores of 65.15 and 62.91. Defending champion Kimmie Meissner fell on her opening jump and placed fourth; world junior champion Caroline Zhang had two jumps downgraded and was seventh.
"I'm pretty excited," said Nagasu, the 2007 U.S. junior champ. "It was just fun out there, pure fun. That's what I'm here to do. I just want to continue to do it."
Nagasu skated to "I Got Rhythm," and she said during training that she was inspired by dancer Gene Kelly. She channeled his verve with her opening triple lutz-triple toe jump combination followed quickly by a triple flip. Her spine-defying layback spin and two other spins all earned the highest levels of difficulty.
She received a standing ovation from a crowd of approximately 9,000 and took a deep bow. Flatt followed immediately with another George Gershwin number, "It Ain't Necessarily So," and another captivating performance. Wagner got a standing ovation for her athletic "Henry VIII" program, highlighted by her huge jumps.
All three of the top skaters landed triple-triple combinations. Meissner tumbled on her opening triple flip and turned a planned triple-triple combination into a triple-double. She earned a score of 57.58 and said she was generally happy with her performance.
"The flip was a silly mistake," Meissner said. "I thought, 'Kimmie, that's not right. There's no falling in figure skating.' I nailed the lutz, and everything was cool."
Zhang received her lowest technical mark of the season and finished with 53.49 points. Zhang, 14, has struggled with tougher judging standards for jumps and had a triple lutz and a triple toe loop downgraded because she did not complete three full revolutions.
"I thought it was OK," said Zhang, who expressed surprise that the lutz was downgraded. "It could have been a lot better. I think my jumps could have been better. I just wasn't skating very well."
Two local competitors, Molly Oberstar of Duluth and Angie Lien of Superior, Wis., skated clean programs to great applause. Oberstar finished 11th and Lien was 13th. Oberstar said as she left the ice that skating in her home-state nationals was the most fun she had had in her life.
Meissner said that in her free skate Saturday, performed to the dramatic opera theme "Nessun Dorma," she will try to stay more focused through the entire program. So will Nagasu, who is determined not to wilt.
"To be first is really exciting," she said. "I'm not going to let any pressure bother me [Saturday]."