The future is now for wunderkind EdmundsBay Area skater in position to make Olympic team as 15-year-old
Frank Carroll, the coach who guided the likes of Michelle Kwan and now is trying to get Gracie Gold to Sochi, looked at Polina Edmunds and said, "She is the future."
But in the minds of many this week at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the future could arrive Saturday night.
In less than three minutes Thursday night, Edmunds transformed herself from being the 2013 U.S. junior champion with virtually no pre-event hype to the darling of the event and an Olympic hopeful.
Competing at her first national championships at the senior level, the 15-year-old has become one of the most intriguing figures in the event. Entering the free skate, Edmunds sits in second place, behind Gold and ahead of 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and two-time defending U.S. champion Ashley Wagner. Gold leads the field with 72.12 points, with Edmunds 5.37 points behind. Wagner is in fourth but trails Nagasu by just 0.73 and Edmunds by 2.04 points.
Coming into this event, Wagner and Gold easily led the way in terms of fanfare, but Edmunds has overtaken them both.
Perhaps what is most surprising about this confident new kid on the block is that she and her team of coaches do not seem to be rattled in the least by the pressure cooker that is the U.S. championships in an Olympic season. Neither Edmunds, nor her coach David Glynn, who began teaching her jumps in the Bay Area when she was 4, said they were surprised by how she skated or that she is in the mix for one of three U.S. Olympic ladies spots.
"She is 2014's version of Tara Lipinski," Glynn told reporters following Edmunds' practice in TD Garden Friday.
Edmunds did not speak with the media after her practice, instead allowing her skating to speak for itself. Although she opted to not attempt her jumps during her program run-through at the practice, she still showcased her triple-triples at other points.
In the short program, Edmunds delivered the most technically challenging program of the night, producing a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, in addition to a triple flip. Gold, who made her breakthrough last year in Omaha, Neb., also landed a triple Lutz-triple toe but made her solo triple jump a relatively easier triple loop.
"It shouldn't really be a surprise," Edmunds said after her short program. "I have the elements and just went out there and did them. I got scores that I think I deserved."
Should Edmunds finish on the podium, she would not be the first woman to do so in the year after competing in the junior ranks. Naomi Nari Nam, for example, finished fourth at the U.S. championships as a junior in 1998 and went on to win the silver medal in seniors in 1999. Sasha Cohen was second in juniors in 1999 and vaulted to a second-place finish at the senior level in 2000.
But it has been 50 years since a ladies skater has made the U.S. Olympic team the year after winning the junior crown. Back in 1964, a 15-year-old Tina Noyes made the Olympic team that competed in Innsbruck after winning the junior title in 1963. She was such a surprise to make the team that when she picked up her Olympic clothing, it had another person's name on it.
Noyes, a longtime coach in Boston, will be in the stands Saturday night. She said she is all for rewarding young talent, although she made it clear she does not want to "jockey for one skater over another," saying she is excited to see how the upstarts will perform.
"U.S. Figure Skating needs to showcase its best talent," Noyes said. "We need to look at and encourage these young kids, and if they have the talent, let them go. How are the skaters skating today? If the kids show their talent at nationals, send them. If it's not about these Olympics, then certainly it's for the next Olympics."
U.S. Figure Skating is not under any obligation to take the top-three finishers from these Championships to Sochi, but certainly strong performances here in Boston will carry a lot of weight in the decision-making process. The selection committee is supposed to evaluate the skaters not only on their performances at this event but on their body of work, namely major international competitions.
Gold, Nagasu and Wagner all have competition experience at the senior level. Nagasu finished fourth at the Olympics in Vancouver; Wagner has made three trips to the world championships, placing as high as fourth in 2012; Gold made her world championships debut in 2013 with a sixth-place showing.
Edmunds, meanwhile, has no senior-level international experience, but she won both Junior Grand Prix events she entered this season and placed fourth in the Junior Grand Prix Final. She was second in the free skate at the Junior Grand Prix Final and posted the highest technical score in the free skate of any U.S. lady this season (62.95).
Glynn, who guides the teen's skating along with her mother, Nina Edmunds, argued that although Polina has not competed in the senior ranks until this week, she has gained valuable competition experience and should be on the Olympic team if she finishes among the top three in Boston. Part of that experience, he said, was just being around the likes of three-time world champion Patrick Chan and Russia's world pairs champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov when the Junior Grand Prix Final coincided with the senior Grand Prix Final in Japan in December.
Edmunds was not even born when Lipinski made history in Nagano, becoming the youngest ladies Olympic figure skating champion when she was 15. Edmunds was born in May 1998, a few months after Lipinski achieved her feat, but she hopes to repeat history. One big difference between Lipinski's rise to Olympic glory and Edmunds' path is that Lipinski had already become a world champion before hitting the Olympic ice.
"She is a very talented girl and a breath of fresh air," said Lipinski, who was in TD Garden working for NBC during Edmunds' short program. "I hope she continues on to great success and gets to experience some of the memorable moments that I was able to enjoy."
First things first, however, as Edmunds must skate a four-minute program tonight. The biggest challenge for her might not be her opening triple Lutz-triple toe but the weight of expectations that have been heaped upon her after her wondrous short program.
Edmunds, who on occasion has sought coaching help from Frank Carroll, has the advantage of youth.
"She's not afraid," Carroll said. "When you're young, you're fearless."