Wagner, Gold seek consistency in Saint PaulTwo ladies favorites have experienced up-and-down campaigns
How well they skate, however, is anybody's guess.
Wagner could perform the way she did at the 2015 U.S. Championships, where she was brilliant in her short program and free skate and captured her third U.S. crown. Or she could be the Wagner who was last after the short program at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona last month.
Likewise, Gold, the 2014 U.S. champion, could shine like she did in the short program at 2014 Trophée Eric Bompard. But she could also be lackluster, like she was in Barcelona, where she made multiple mistakes and placed fifth out of six skaters.
Not even Wagner and Gold themselves can explain their lack of consistency.
Gold said there was nothing in her preparation leading up to the Grand Prix Final that would suggest such a performance was coming.
"I just got in my own head," Gold said. "I just freaked myself out.
"I just choked," she added. "I went out there, and there wasn't a fire, there wasn't attack. It was just meh, which is a shame because I was completely well trained."
Gold said that she hasn't made any changes to the technical content of her programs. Instead, she's focusing more on her mindset entering these championships.
"I've really just been trying to change my energy and my attack," Gold said.
"I'm tired of going down without a fight, like, by doing doubles," she added. "I want to at least go down guns blazing. … I want to put down two strong performances and set myself apart as the national champion."
Wagner, who has been working out in Colorado Springs to get in some high-altitude training, said she, too, is well prepared, but now "it's just up to me to skate (my programs)."
Most observers expect Wagner and Gold to get two of the United States' three ladies spots at the 2016 World Championships. Should those two two deliver four strong skates in Saint Paul, U.S. officials would breathe a lot easier for their prospects at worlds.
But with Wagner and Gold, a lot of it is wait and see.
Wagner, who won the title at Skate Canada, made a statement in the Grand Prix Final free skate, in which she scored a personal-best 139.77 points. The problem was, she limped through her short program in Barcelona, causing her to miss the podium at that event for the first time in four years.
Gold's most promising moment of the season came when she won the short program at Trophée Bompard with a personal-best 73.32 points. The free skate was canceled because of the terrorist attacks in Paris, and although Gold understands the reasoning behind that decision, she wonders what might have been.
"I was leading a short program by seven points," Gold said. "We had our practice in the morning. I was feeling on top of the world."
Frank Carroll, Gold's coach, said that when his skater was informed that the event was cancelled, she cried. He said she knew she was on the cusp of something big and, yet, she couldn't show it.
"We understood why, but, yes, it was disappointing," Carroll said. "She was skating well…really well."
Wagner beat Gold by 15.48 points to win her third U.S. title last season in Greensboro, North Carolina. Gold, for one, said she is "not looking in the rearview mirror" as she approaches this week's event.
"Each season feels like its own stand-alone season," Gold said. "No matter what place I had been last year or the year before, I feel like it's of no relevance to how I feel going into this one. Even if I was in last place last year, I would be training the same."
Wagner, ever the fighter, could have easily walked away from the sport after achieving her goal of making the Olympic team in 2014. Instead, she has persevered, and even improved. She would love to add title No. 4 this week.
Only two ladies in the last 40 years have won at least four U.S. titles: Linda Fratianne (who won four) and Michelle Kwan (who won nine). A win in Saint Paul, and Wagner would join that exclusive club.
To do that, she'll need to skate like she did in the free skate in Barcelona and not like she did in the short program.
"I know that I'm capable of much, much more," Wagner said. "The challenge for me is just getting to that point that I can go out and skate those programs."