The two favorites for the women's crown at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships suffered very different fates during Saturday's free skate at TD Garden. Gold completed a wire-to-wire victory for her first national title, while Wagner skated so poorly all she could say afterward was "I'm sorry" over and over again.
Gold finished with a championship total of 211.69 to follow up on her dominating short program on Thursday. Fifteen-year-old phenom Polina Edmunds also kept her momentum by staying in second place (193.63). Mirai Nagusa finished third at 190.74.
"This is unreal. I can't believe that just happened. I'm still like in shock," Gold said afterward. "I was just in a training program. It was just like I do every day."
Wagner vowed not "to mess up again" like she did four years ago at Nationals to miss the Vancouver Games. That focus and determination appeared to have the defending U.S. champion with the right mindset, but her worst fears unfolded with every mistake in a long program that had a teary Wagner shaking her head and left her in a disappointing fourth place at 182.74.
Ashley Wagner reacts during the ladies free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (USA Today)
"This is a mental competition. This is tough because you go out there and your dreams are literally on the line," Wagner said. "I've been there in practice and I'm that skater that deserves to be on the team but right now under the pressure of it coming true or not, it's hard to block that out."
"It's embarrassing. It's embarrassing as two-time national champion to put out a performance like that," she added. "So, I did what I did and now we’ll see what happens after this. Luckily I had a decent season. That definitely helps my case but other than that I'm embarrassed for that program."
Wagner's collapse wasn't lost on Edmunds and Nagasu. Both launched into campaign mode during their press conference just in case the selection committee was listening.
"The only thing I can brag about now is that I'm the only one with Olympic experience," said Nagasu, 20. "I don't know what my federation will do, but all I can say is that I did what I had to do today. And I'll have to respect any choice that they make."
"I'm young – I'm 15 – but I am age-eligible for the Olympics," Edmunds said. "Some of my role models like Tara Lipinski – she was 15 when she went to the Olympics."
"Tonight was the night we had to prove ourselves and I think that we did," added Edmunds, speaking for her fellow top-three finishers. "There's a lot of strong skaters here, but in the end we were the three and I think that has something to say for itself."
Edmunds felt she was right where she belonged in second place after the short program. Her free skate wasn't so clean, falling once and struggling with her jumps, but her program's degree of difficulty helped make up for those mistakes in scoring a 126.88 to take lead.
That brought up Nagasu, a fourth-place finisher at the Vancouver Olympics. She landed all six of her triple jumps, each one punctuated by the crowd's cheers, to move into second place with a score of 125.30.
All of that set the scene for Gold as the night's last skater. The 18-year-old started off beautifully displaying her trademark sky-high jumping ability and, despite putting a hand on the ice on a triple flip, went on to complete a long program that even left her in amazement afterward.
She punched her arm in the air after hearing her winning score of 139.57.
"This evening was a dream come true," Gold said. "This is definitely one of the best nights of my life. I was able to do what I train. I just went out there and I did what I could … I am so proud of myself."
Saturday also saw champions crowned in pairs and ice dance. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir claimed their second straight U.S. pairs title, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White accomplished a record-setting sixth straight U.S. ice dance victory.
The two pairs and three ice dance tandems for Sochi, along with the three women selections, will be named on Sunday afternoon before the men's free skate.
"We're really proud of our consistency. That's really what it takes," Davis said. "We've been lucky to be injury-free, which is another big part of it. And we've worked our butts off."
In the men's competition, Jeremy Abbott is the surprise leader after a Nationals record-setting short program of 99.86 points and holds a sizeable cushion over Richard Dornbush (92.04), Jason Brown (87.47) and defending U.S. champion Max Aaron (86.95). However, the 28-year-old veteran isn't booking his flight for Sochi.
"My foot is not on the plane yet," Abbott warned. "I have a good score but I still have four minutes and 40 seconds to go. I have eight jumping passes, 13 jumps, three spins and two footworks, so I'm really only a third of the way there."
The two men on the U.S. team will be announced at 7:15 p.m. ET Sunday.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Skating
- Ashley Wagner
- Polina Edmunds