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OLYMPICS

No rookie jitters, US women eager for games debut

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Rachael Flatt wants to kick some butt and Mirai Nagasu is threatening to bust out a quad. Not even the presence of the "Queen" scares them.

The Americans know nobody's picking them to win anything at the Vancouver Games, let alone Olympic gold. They know all the attention is on South Korea's Kim Yu-na. They know they don't have a lot of ice cred when it comes to the big stage.

And you know what? They don't much care.

"We're 16 and 17, which has its advantages and disadvantages," said Nagasu, who is, for the record, the 16-year-old. "(Kim) does have more international experience and she has more experience in her skating because she's been skating longer. Because we don't know what she knows yet, we can just go in there with a blank mind and attack out there and have fun."

The Olympic figure skating title only seems like it belongs to the American women. They've won seven Olympic golds, including three of the last five. They've claimed at least one medal at every Winter Games since 1952 except in 1964, which was three years after the entire U.S. team was killed in a plane crash.

Think of the most famous American Winter Olympians — go ahead, we'll wait — and odds are Peggy, Dorothy and Michelle are somewhere on the list. Like J.Lo and Jen, they're so big they don't need last names.

But there's been a seismic shift in skating's balance of power since Sasha Cohen won the silver medal at the Turin Games. No U.S. woman has medaled at worlds since 2006, the longest drought since the plane crash. For only the second time since 1924, the United States has only two women in the field.

"Coming in as an underdog certainly helps," said Flatt, the U.S. champion. "Mirai and I are both incredibly excited to go out there and kick some butt."

Of course, this all sounds good. But from their relaxed, even playful attitude Saturday morning, they might actually believe it, too.

When someone asked Nagasu about all the "free stuff" she'd been so excited to get, she blushed and buried her head in her arm. Asked what changes she'd made to her programs since nationals three weeks ago, Nagasu said, straight-faced, that she was planning a quadruple jump.

"No, I'm just kidding," she said after a pause, the room erupting in laughter.

"I didn't come to the Olympics to be nervous and have the nerves overtake me," Nagasu said. "I came here to have fun, and that's what I'm doing."

She talked about pushing and shoving with other athletes in an effort to get up front at the opening ceremony. She described — in great detail — the contents of the Mirai Nagasu roll now on the menu at her parents' sushi restaurant. She raved about her hot pink and turquoise Nikes with the gold swoosh, and lamented the fact she's not rooming with Johnny Weir.

"I could get tips on makeup and styling," she said. "Maybe at the next Olympics he can be my roommate."

She even answered a few questions in Japanese.

"They always laugh at me for my broken Japanese," said Nagasu, whose parents were born in Japan.

Flatt wasn't quite so entertaining, but she didn't back off tough questions, either.

Flatt has some serious springs, probably the most athletic skater the United States has sent to the Olympics since Tara Lipinski. She did seven triple jumps in her free skate at nationals, most of them in combination.

But her program has been criticized as too, well, flat. Many people even thought Nagasu had won, not realizing three of her jumps had been downgraded.

"I've heard the criticisms," Flatt said. "At the same time, skating is a combination of artistry and athleticism. At nationals, I think I put out the best combination of both. I regret the criticisms, but I am very critical of my own skating."

And, Flatt said, she can see where the critics are coming from.

"In general, (my) artistry needs to improve a lot," she said. "There's a certain feeling of emotion that must come across, and I'm certainly working on those aspects in training."

Flatt and Nagasu are leaving Vancouver after the weekend to train in the peace and quiet of their own rinks. Flatt trains in Colorado Springs, Colo., while Nagasu is in Los Angeles. The women's competition doesn't begin until Feb. 23.

When they return, however, the world better be ready. They back down to nobody.

"I'm thinking about it," Nagasu said, "as my Olympics."