Who would have put down a deuce on this trifecta coming in? Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds, and Mirai Nagasu with Ashley Wagner out of the money? That’s how it was at TD Garden on Thursday night when the US Figure Skating Championships served up a short-program surprise with Olympic tickets at stake.
Gold, who was ninth after last year’s short, had changed her program theme since her last competition in November, switching from Gershwin to Grieg. Edmunds, a leggy 15-year-old from San Jose with a Russian mom, had spent the season on the junior circuit. And Nagasu, a former champion and Vancouver veteran, since had been knocked around by the sport and by life. All of them finished ahead of Wagner, the two-time defending champion who’s bidding to become the first woman to win three crowns in a row since Michelle Kwan claimed her eighth straight in 2005.
“Going into the long program I’m exactly where I want to be,” said Wagner, whose botched triple-triple combination left her more than seven points behind Gold, whose 72.12 put her more than five ahead of Edwards’s 66.75. “I’m ready to fight.”
If Wagner can be in the top five after Saturday night’s free skate, odds are good that the USFSA’s international committee will vote to send her to the Games based on what she has done in the past. Besides her two titles, Wagner helped the US reclaim its customary third Olympic entry at last year’s world championships and finished third in last month’s Grand Prix final.
Four years ago Wagner had been odd woman out behind Rachael Flatt and Nagasu, but she’d since taken wing while the Olympians came to earth. Flatt, now a Stanford undergrad, had missed last year’s event with leg injuries and had to go through regionals and sections to qualify for a championships where she’d been a four-time medalist. Her reentry began disastrously with a single lutz that ended any chance of a decent score and Flatt ended up 20th, nearly 20 points out of the medals.
Nagasu, who’d been fourth in Vancouver at 16, had been on an erratic path since, sometimes brilliant, sometimes befuddled. “The Olympics are a part of me,” she said. “It was a great experience but now a lot of things have happened. I only matured from my struggles.”
Nagasu, who came here without a coach, summoned forth some of her old magic, leading off with a gorgeous triple toe-triple toe and landing a clean triple loop and double axel to place just 1.31 points behind Edmunds. “I’ve been in this position last year,” said Nagasu, who was third after last year’s short but came unglued in the long and ended up seventh. “Anything can happen.”
Edmunds never had been in this position before but nobody would have known. She began with the same big-girl combination as Gold, a triple lutz-triple toe, nailed it and kept on flying. All she had to do, she figured, was skate the program the way that she’d been training it all year. “When I came out here tonight I knew how to get into the zone,” said Edmunds, who won the junior title last year and reckoned that she was ready for prime time.
Gold made sure that she got into the zone by blocking out any potential distractions. “It’s all about tunnel vision for me,” she said. “I turned off all texting, social media, Twitter, headphones.” Then she went out and executed a program that nobody could match. “I had a wonderful performance tonight and got a really great score,” Gold said.
All she needs is another one on Saturday and she’ll get herself a trip to Olympus. Her body of work may not be as extensive as Wagner’s but Gold knows how to glow when she has to. Last year she came back from the dead to win the long program, leapfrogged seven rivals, and got herself a spot on the world team. Last night she went with a new sound and a new style and made it look as if she’d done it a dozen times.
That put Gold atop an unlikely trifecta that might not come in again on Saturday. But no matter how it comes out, the selectors might want to order in a vat of coffee from Jerry Jacobs’s larder. They might be up for a while.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.