The women's competition at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships is so unpredictable that almost nothing would come as a surprise, short of Michelle Kwan taking the ice for the short program.
Come to think of it, she might have a chance.
It's the year of the unknown for the U.S., whose top skaters all have redeeming qualities but flaws in their skating or makeup that might prove difficult to overcome in Vancouver next month.
Two of them, however, will earn Olympic berths based on their performances in the short program Thursday and the free skate Saturday in Spokane, Wash.
Which two? That's anybody's guess.
Alissa Czisny is the defending U.S. champion but has had problems dealing with her nerves. Ashley Wagner is a well-rounded skater but struggles with some jumps. Rachael Flatt is consistent, but is that enough?
Then there is Sasha Cohen, who has the distinction of being the most accomplished skater of the bunch -- and the biggest question mark. She hasn't competed since winning silver in Turin in 2006 and withdrew from the two events she entered this season.
Can Cohen un-retire her way straight into the Olympics?
"I'm skeptical," Wagner said. "I think it's very, very hard to have your first competition be nationals. But I'm not counting her out."
Czisny, 22, of Bowling Green, Ohio, would be the clear-cut favorite as the defending champion if not for the up-and-down nature of her performances under the bright lights.
She won bronze at nationals in 2007, then finished 15th at worlds. She faded to ninth at nationals in '08 and contemplated retirement. She bounced back to win gold last year, then finished 11th at worlds.
"I think being the national champion going into this year has its pluses and minuses," said Czisny, who has relatives in the Milwaukee area and skates at the Pettit National Ice Center when she visits.
"It gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I could go out and put everything together when it counted. But there's a lot more expectations and pressures and I have to learn to deal with all that."
Wagner, 18, of Alexandria, Va., had a disastrous short program at nationals last year but bounced back to win the free skate and vaulted from 12th place to fourth.
"I will be honest, going into the short program I was focusing on the end result and that didn't work out too well for me," she said. "I decided I was going to go for it in the long program and I came away with first place.
"I just have to get in that frame of mind before the short program, rather than having a disastrous skate to get there."
Wagner's jumps, particularly the triple lutz, could hold her back.
"The triple lutz is tricky because you can easily switch over to the wrong edge (of the skate blade) to start the jump," said Sue Susic Ervin of New Berlin, a highly regarded figure skating coach. "If you switch the edge, the deductions are so bad. Ashley has had that problem since way back."
Flatt, 17, the runner-up to Czisny last year, is known for her solid, if not spectacular, programs. She finished fifth at worlds and is mentored by Dorothy Hamill.
"She stands out the most for me," Susic Ervin said. "She might not have quite the flash and flare the other two (Czisny and Wagner) have, but she's going to put out a consistent program 95 percent of the time."
Cohen, 25, of Los Angeles, has battled injuries and hasn't competed in front of judges in four years. Most doubt she will be able to recapture the form that made her a two-time Olympian and a two-time world silver medalist.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Susic Ervin said. "You can't go into other things and come back; unfortunately, our sport isn't conducive to that. I love her skating, but I'll believe it when I see her take the ice.
"I have this theory she'll do the short (program) and something will happen and she won't skate the free."
Mirai Nagasu, 16, of Arcadia, Calif., finished fifth at the U.S. championships last year and could be a factor if others falter. Another 16-year-old, Caroline Zhang, won the 2007 world junior title and could be in the mix.
The U.S. has just two slots in Vancouver because Flatt and Czisny finished a disappointing fifth and 11th at the 2009 World Championships.
"I can't even remember the last time we were only able to send two," Susic Ervin said.
That would be 1994, when Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan created more than enough drama to make up for the third spot. Nothing as crazy as "Skategate" is likely to occur this year, but that's just about the only safe prediction.