Alissa Czisny wins Skate America title

ONTARIO, Calif. -- Not so long ago, Alissa Czisny would have come undone by a fall early in her program. She was often a mental mess, the exact opposite of her coolly elegant skating.

Those days are gone.

Czisny overcame a spill on the second of her seven triple jumps to edge Italy's Carolina Kostner by 0.13 points and win the women's title at Skate America on Sunday.

"It was a bit of a relief to see it was just barely enough," she said.

Czisny totaled 177.48 points in her first appearance at the event since 2005, when she finished second. She won the short program Saturday by nearly four points over Kostner.

Kostner, third last year, took the silver at 177.35.

Three-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany rallied to win the pairs title with a solid free program.

Czisny's medal was the first by a U.S. woman at Skate America in four years.

"It was special for me," she said. "Guess it was nice to win something other than Skate Canada."

Viktoria Helgesson of Sweden, fifth after the short, earned the bronze at 145.75. Skating to "Sunset Boulevard," she fell on a triple lutz, skipped a triple flip and touched a hand down on a triple salchow.

"It's a really big thing for me," she said about winning Sweden's first women's medal at the event. "I have improved my programs a lot from last season. I think that was what made me come this far."

Skating last to a dour classical piece, Czisny packed her program with seven triples, which along with Ksenia Makarova of Russia, was the most of any woman. The American opened with a triple-triple combination before falling on a triple flip.

"That was a bit uncharacteristic of me to miss a jump early, but I had heard Carolina's score before I went out there and knew I had to fight for everything," she said. "There's some new things in my program. I really want to do the program justice. Sometimes I feel I focus too much on the jumps."

Two of Czisny's other single triples weren't perfect either, while Kostner tossed in some extra jumps and her routine to Mozart won the free skate.

"I slept very bad last night," Kostner said. "I was trying to think what I had to do today. When I got on the ice, I found my place and found my legs.

"Usually I'm more like a roller coaster at the beginning of the season. This gives me more confidence. I want to stay focused and not think this is enough."

American Caroline Zhang, third after the short, had a disastrous outing, falling three times to end up sixth. She stumbled out of her opening triple, giving her no chance to complete the combination with a double toeloop.

"That was just plain stupid," Zhang said. "I've been doing it clean in practice, so it was just a bunch of stupid mistakes that got to me. When I started thinking about the mistakes each one just got worse."

The other U.S. woman, Joelle Forte, also fell and was eighth in her Grand Prix debut.

Savchenko and Szolkowy were fifth Saturday after the short program in which Savchenko fell on their opening throw triple axel and they bobbled at other times in the opening event of the Grand Prix season.

"I hope you missed us yesterday," Szolkowy said, jokingly.

They easily won the long program and finished with 183.98 points to claim their second straight Skate America title and third overall.

"We tried to skate just like in practice," Szolkowy said. "We showed yesterday was the result of trying new things."

Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China, who led after the short, settled for silver at 178.66, the same color medal they won at the 2006 Turin Olympics.

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada, second last year, earned the bronze at 177.43.

Americans Caydee Denney and John Coughlin finished fourth in their first competition together, just 2.03 points out of a medal.

They were second after the short, but dropped to fourth in the free skate despite a trouble-free routine that earned a standing ovation from the small crowd at Citizens Business Bank Arena 40 miles east of Los Angeles.

Like most of the skaters, Savchenko and Szolkowy unveiled their new programs for the season at the event. Their free skate was to music from a documentary about Pina, a well-known German choreographer.

"The difference (Sunday) was that we tried something new yesterday for the first time in competition," Szolkowy said.

Savchenko added, "We want to try new things. We want to take another step. You're never too old to learn something new."

The Chinese, who are not related, returned to competition for the first time after missing all of last season because of hand, shoulder and knee injuries to Dan.

"We were pretty pleased because we've been training for only a short time," he said through a translator. "It's only the third run-through of the program. My endurance is still lacking."

Americans Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin finished sixth, while Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker were seventh. Marley fell three times on triples.

"Some days are easier than others," Brubaker said. "I think that in the midst of our mistakes we did some really nice things."

Vise and Baldwin, an off-ice couple, were introduced three times. The first time the wrong music was played, then no music played before the correct piece came on.

"I want that to happen every time," Vise said. "It got us to relax and it almost felt like practice. It got the crowd behind us and by the time the music started I felt good."