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Opining on US Nationals: Surprises abound on day one

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A month before the Olympics, and it's time for the Americans to make their selections for the team. Two men, three ladies, two pairs, and three dance teams will represent the U.S. in Sochi. Yesterday was the first day of the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which will determine those ten spots. And if you missed it yesterday, well, you missed some great skating and some interesting surprises.

Videos/Play-by-play: Ladies short program

Tale of two favorites
It was the pairs and ladies who kicked off the competition yesterday. Both discipline featured a pair of favorites - Caydee Denney/John Coughlin and Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir on the pairs' side and Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold on the ladies' side. And in both cases, one is leading and the other is in fourth.

Play-by-play: Pairs short program

Gold reversed her short program fortunes from last season and skated a confident new short program that gave her the only 70+ score of the day among the ladies. Wagner averted disaster on her combo, but she was only able to eke out a triple flip-double toe instead of the planned triple flip-triple toe. It was an unusual mistake for Wagner, who has been hitting that combination all season. Ten bucks says NBC will be showing her falling on that triple lutz four years ago at least twice.

Gold now has a lead of over seven points over Wagner - not impossible, but it will be a tough road for Wagner to three-peat tomorrow.

On the pairs side, it was defending champs and home favorites Castelli/Shnapir who skated lights-out to take a very comfortable advantage into the free skate. Denney/Coughlin, who won in 2012 but missed last year's Nationals with Coughlin's surgery, made two mistakes and trail by almost eight points. But as far as consistency, Denney/Coughlin certainly has that in the free skate over other pairs. It'll be an interesting free skate tomorrow.

Surprises in second and third
Perhaps the biggest surprises in the field were the ones between the favorites. There was a whole lot of buzz coming in for last year's junior champ, Polina Edmunds, and she did not disappoint. Edmunds delivered the hardest program of any of the ladies, with a triple lutz-triple toe and a triple flip, to grab second. 2008 champ Mirai Nagasu looked like she was on a mission and skated a clean program to sit in third.

For the pairs, DeeDee Leng/Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth last year, made a splash with a powerful short program that put them in a surprise third. Last year's bronze medalists, Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay, made a strong statement after a rough start to their season and are in second after also skating cleanly.

Super skating all around
Whether or not your favorites ended up on top, it was still a great day of skating in Boston. In the ladies' competition, there were seven triple-triples in 21 programs and consecutive clean programs from many of the competitors. In fact, the first group of skaters skated almost flawlessly. For the pairs, it was similar - five of the 12 pairs skated cleanly, with a number of others just making just a slight error.

There's a whole lot of depth for the American ladies, albeit without the intense international experience that the Japanese ladies may have. And as much as people like to dismiss American pairs, the talent is there and there could certainly be some breakthroughs during the next Olympic cycle.

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