Gold-en Age! Victorious Gracie lives up to nameEdmunds, Nagasu, Wagner await fate as committee decides Olympians
Gracie Gold transformed herself into Sleeping Beauty and likely will be the only skater who can rest easy after an uncertain chain of events occurred in the ladies free skate Saturday night.
Gold, who won her first U.S. title and her first title of any kind in two years, delivered a program that likely will end in her living her Olympic dream.
However, the three other women who finished behind her might wake up to their worst nightmare.
Gold's U.S. title does not guarantee her a trip to the upcoming Olympics, but she is the only one of the top skaters at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston with reason to be confident.
Gold topped a podium with 15-year-old Polina Edmunds in second and 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu in third. Two-time defending champion Ashley Wagner, who just barely missed out on a spot in the Olympics in Vancouver, apologized after the competition, saying she was "embarrassed" by her fourth-place performance.
At noon Sunday, three women will be named to the U.S. Olympic team, but U.S. Figure Skating rules state that no one, not even the U.S. champion, is assured a spot. That decision goes into the hands of the international selection committee, which has been instructed to make its decision based on a skater's performance at these Championships in addition to past history at major events such as the world championships.
"Oh, that's going to be a rough one," said Gold's coach, Frank Carroll, when asked about the selection committee's upcoming choice. "I wouldn't want to make that decision."
The big drama centers around Wagner, who was considered a virtual lock to make this team entering these Championships, barring a disastrous performance. She was fourth in the short program and vowed to fight and earn her spot on the Olympic team with a redeeming showing in the free skate.
But Wagner fell twice and mustered just four triples, a performance which left her saying, "I'm so sorry," to the cameras in the kiss and cry.
Shortly afterward, Edmunds, who was a stunning second after the short program, took the ice. Competing in her first senior-level competition, Edmunds displayed the poise of a skater with years more experience. She landed four triples in the opening minute of her program, and although she fell on a triple flip, she executed six clean triples overall.
Nagasu, who just missed the Olympic podium with a fourth-place finish in Vancouver, was next. She came into these Championships as a wild card, having fallen to seventh at the U.S. championships the last two years and having dropped her latest coach in a string of coaching changes back after the Rostelecom Cup in late November.
She was training for a few weeks in Japan and then in Scottsdale, Ariz., and seemed as aimless as a broken navigation system.
But she shocked the field with a third-place showing in the short program, and then she reeled off a nearly flawless free skate to win the bronze medal.
"Hopefully, they pick me to the team," said Nagasu, tears welling up in her eyes in a post-event news conference. "I haven't always been the most consistent skater, but under pressure I have been the most consistent skater."
She then paused and added, "Most of the time."
The final skater of the night was Gold, and she made good on her golden name with a dream-like performance. Aside from a shaky landing when she put her hand down on a triple flip, Gold sailed through her routine. When she landed her final jump, a double Axel, she pumped both her fists in celebration. She closed her program with a layback spin and began to let her mind drift.
"On my layback, I was thinking I have a really great chance to go to the Olympics," she said. "Maybe it was a bit premature ... but it was definitely there."
It wasn't the only premature thing to happen in the night. Everyone in the near-sold out TD Garden -- an impressive feat in and of itself considering the New England Patriots were playing a playoff game as well -- left wondering which ladies would make the Olympic squad.
And all three of the skaters in contention to compete in Sochi made their cases heard.
Edmunds, whose mother, Nina, is Russian, and whose idol is Tara Lipinski -- who became the youngest Olympic figure skating champion in history at the age of 15 -- made no bones about her goal to compete in the Olympic Winter Games.
"It would be the best feeling in the world," Edmunds said. "Tonight was the night we all needed to prove ourselves, and I think I proved myself."
Nagasu made the argument that she should go as the lone skater with previous Olympic experience in the field.
And Wagner, though her free skate was far from her best, was hopeful that one off night would not cast aside her past years of success. In addition to winning the bronze medal last month at the Grand Prix Final, she also helped the United States secure a third spot for its women in Sochi by her performance at the world championships (combined with Gold's performance at worlds as well), and she captained Team USA to a gold medal at the World Team Trophy.
But only Gold left the building in a fairy-tale state.
When asked if she would sleep at all Saturday night, Nagasu replied sarcastically, "Sleep? I'm not going to sleep."
Christina Gao was hoping to secure a spot in Sochi with a strong showing in her training town of Boston. But Gao, who had finished fifth in her four previous trips to the U.S. championships, struggled through the second half of her free skate, falling twice and popping her triple Salchow. As the dejected skater was exiting the ice, Wagner, the next skater to perform, came over and gave her a hug. The gesture wasn't lost on Gao, who has traveled internationally with Wagner.
Moments later, it was Wagner who would need a hug as she, too, fell twice and was trying to keep her Olympic hopes alive.
"I admire her," Gao said of Wagner. "I look up to her, even today."
Gao, who wound up eighth, was gracious in her own right. Despite seeing her dreams of Sochi dashed, Gao said, "Whichever three girls make it to Sochi, I wish them the best of luck and that may they skate their hearts out there."
Agnes Zawadzki, a bronze medalist at the last two U.S. championships and considered by many to be a pre-event contender for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, struggled at these Championships. She was 13th after the short program, and things did not get much better in the free skate as she had a near fall on a triple Lutz and popped her triple flip. The popular skater did receive some comfort afterward, as Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski and three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir came by to console her.
"That meant a lot," said Zawadzki's coach, Tom Zakrajsek.
Courtney Hicks, another skater considered to have a good shot at making the podium here, rallied from 16th place in the short program to place sixth in the free skate and sixth overall.
"I had a lot more confidence tonight," Hicks said. "I definitely wanted to end on a good note."
One of the biggest moves up in the competition came from Samantha Cesario. She said she was "a little angry" with her 11th-place showing in the short program and a bit extra motivated to come back in the free skate. She rallied by landing six triples in a riveting free skate to Carmen, and vaulted to fifth place.
After her final jump combination, a triple flip-double toe-double loop, she really seemed to embody the character of her program.
"I love this program," Cesario said. "Once I land that last triple, I can really sell the program."
Franchesca Chiera had a disappointing showing on the ice in her senior debut at a U.S. championships, falling twice in her free skate and finishing 17th. For Chiera, these Championships were a huge eye-opening experience since she was skating at the novice level a year ago.
"I didn't do what I hoped to do, but it was a great experience," she said. "Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, and I am just going to go back home and work harder. I'm not going to give up."
Rachael Flatt had an emotional night in her last trip to the U.S. championships. The 2010 Olympian and Stanford pre-med student battled several injuries but managed to qualify for the Championships. She was teary-eyed when she finished her Rachmaninoff program and stepped off the ice.