LAKE PLACID, N.Y. // How about that? Kim Yu-Na puts her skates on one foot at a time.
Banners around the rink at Skate America Sunday afternoon hearalded the much-anticipated coronation of the "Queen," who set a world record in the short program the previous day. Members of the Korean community, some of them arriving by charter bus from New York City, filled the seats and waved Korean flags.
But Kim's long program performance was anything but regal. She fell once and lurched from one element to another, showing none of the grace and style that marked her as the woman to beat at the Vancouver Olympics in February. Only three of her planned six triple jumps were clean.
However, on the strength of the short program, she carried the day with a final score of 187.98.
American Rachael Flatt took the long program by five points, landing seven clean triple jumps and faltering only in the final seconds when she botched a combination spin. Her final score was 174.91, good for the silver medal.
Hungary's Julia Sebestyen finished third, with a score of 159.03.
Returning to competition for the first time in more than a year, U.S. skater Emily Hughes finished 52 points behind the winner for seventh place. Teammate Alexe Gilles took 10th place.
"It's pretty cool," said Flatt of beating Kim in the long program. "It shows everyone makes mistakes."
Kim, the reigning world champion who trains in Canada, admitted the pressure of expectations for another world-record performance rattled her. After a flawed triple jump combination and a fall on the next element, a triple flip, she could not regain her focus.
"I think I learned a lot today," said Kim of her error-filled performance. "It could happen at any time."
Flatt's showing was one of the few bright spots for the immediate future of the U.S. women's program and for Vancouver. The other is Ashley Wagner, who medaled at both of her Grand Prix assignments to secure a spot at the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo next month.
The U.S. championship has changed hands five times in the past five years: Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, Bel Air's Kimmie Meissner, Mirai Nagasu and Alissa Czisny.
The fact that U.S. Figure Skating had to rush Hughes in as a last-munte replacement for the hobbled Cohen at Skate America only reinforces the cupboard-is-bare image. Hughes, who left competitive skating to attend Harvard University, had been in the process of trying to qualify for Nationals through regional and sectional competitions.
Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist who hasn't competed in three years, is hurt, Meissner is out for the year with an injury. Nagasu seems to lack the discipline of a champion. Czisny, the reigning title holder, has a history of imploding in the spotlight.
Czisny, Nagasu and Caroline Zhang will compete next weekend at Skate Canada, the last Grand Prix before the Final and then U.S. Nationals, where the two spots on the Olympic squad will be filled.
"A lot can happen in two months," said Hughes.
But probably not another "poor" showing by Kim.
2009 Skate America
* Skate America TV schedule (bottom of article)
* Sun coverage of Kimmie Meissner: