U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner in danger of not making Olympic team
Gracie Gold leads after short program at U.S. nationals
Gracie Gold easily skated off with the women's short program Thursday night in Boston at the U.S. figure skating championships with a career-high 72.12 points.
Gold's sensational performance built on strong jumps, improved presentation and a rapport with the audience put her more than five points ahead of 15-year-old Polina Edmunds and nearly seven points ahead of a resurgent Mirai Nagasu.
Two-time defending champion Ashley Wagner was fourth.
The top three women will go to the Sochi Olympics.
Wagner's relatively conservative program had too many errors, such as a shaky landing on her combination jump, which was only a triple-double. She simply didn't attack the way the top three did.
"I decided to play it safe rather than be sorry," she said. "I could have gone for the triple after the flip, but knew it wouldn't be a good one and it was risky. I decided to just leave it at that."
Wagner has finished in the top 5 at the world championships on two occasions since 2010, when she also failed to make the cut for the Olympics due to a disappointing nationals performance.
The U.S. put skaters on the podium in 11 straight Olympics in the ladies competition until that streak was snapped at the Vancouver Games.
Gold's triple lutz-triple toe loop combination got her off to a strong start, and the program to Piano Concerto kept on building. She earned the highest possible level on all her other elements.
"It was one of my best shorts," Gold said. "I feel a little bit different standing here than being in ninth.
"I was able to skate the way I trained. I'm so glad I was able to breathe and bend my knees. I just trusted my training."
Earlier, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir ignored all the pressure of carrying the hopes of friends and family in the crowd to run away with the pairs short program.
The defending champs staked themselves to a huge lead of 6.63 points.
And that left her fourth, behind Nagasu, who pretty much has struggled ever since finishing fourth in the Vancouver Olympics.
"I feel like I have a full door of opportunity available to me," Nagasu said.
In pairs, Castelli's jaw dropped when their mark of 73.13 points was announced.
"I was in shock at first; I was not expecting that," she said. "I like to try to calculate it in my head. I would have been happy with 66 or 67, so it was just insane."
The real competition Saturday could be for the second Olympic spot available to the U.S. in pairs. Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay lead third-place DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc by 0.1 points.
--With files from The Associated Press