BOSTON – Gracie Gold is just one more amazing performance away from becoming America's most aptly named figure skating champion.
A surprise runner-up at last year's U.S. Nationals, Gold raised her profile one more notch after dominating Thursday's short program at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The 18-year-old from Chicago skated last in the third of four groups and raised the bar with a 72.12 to grab the lead. Her crowd-pleasing program featured the jumping prowess that allowed her to skyrocket from ninth to second in her free skate at last year's Nationals in Omaha.
"It's all about tunnel vision for me," Gold said. "I think last year at competitions when maybe I hadn't skated as well, I wasn't focused on me and my training." "I've turned off all texting, all twitter, all social media. It's just my headphones, me warming up and then skating the program I trained in practice."
Two-time defending U.S. champion Ashley Wagner isn't even Gold's closest competition for the title. Fifteen-year-old Polina Edmunds wowed everyone with a 66.75 to end up second. Mirai Nagasu, who finished fourth at the Vancouver Olympics, sits in third at 65.44.
While waiting for her score, Wagner seemed to acknowledge that she didn't do enough to surpass Gold, and her hunch was right. Skating to Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," Wagner registered a 64.71 that puts her in fourth going into Saturday's free skate.
Wagner, whose third-place finish at the 2010 Nationals wasn't enough for a trip to Vancouver, is in danger of missing the Olympics again. This time, three spots are available on the U.S. team.
"Going into the long program, I feel I am exactly where I want to be," Wagner said. "I really like being the fighter. I really like going after the top prize, not being the one who has to fend everybody off."
Edmunds delivered the night's most surprising result. The high school sophomore from San Jose, Calif., had the crowd clapping as she bounced around the TD Garden ice.
The only person who wasn't shocked by Edmunds' breakout performance? Edmunds, of course.
"It shouldn't really be a surprise," said Edmunds, who pointed out that her program – featuring a triple-triple jump sequence – had the highest difficulty. "I have the elements and just went out there and did them. I got scores that I think I deserved."
Agnes Zawadzki figured to be the best bet to win the third Olympic team berth, having finished third at the last two U.S. Championships. But she was in tears after a mistake-filled program that drew a 54.18 to put her out of contention in 13th place.
"I'm not in the position I was hoping to be in, but I've to keep fighting for my long and attack everything and not doubt myself," Zawadzki said. "It's easier said than done, but my confidence has been through the roof leading up to this competition and I felt really good. Saturday will be better."
Rachael Flatt was the reigning U.S. champion when she finished seventh at the Vancouver Games as a 17-year-old. She then split time between college and training and overcame injuries to take another shot at the Olympics. The 21-year-old Stanford junior managed a score of only 46.57.
The three spots on the U.S. Olympic team will be announced at noon ET on Sunday. No U.S. woman has medaled at the Olympics or world championships since 2006.
The men's competition begins Friday night with the short program. Olympic champion Evan Lysacek is injured and out for the Sochi Games, which means defending U.S. champion Max Aaron is America's best – and arguably only – chance at a medal in Sochi.
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