Edmunds outshines favorites to take sizable leadGold 'flummoxed' by effort; Pierce in third; Wagner fourth; Nagasu rips boot
Welcome to the Ashley Wagner-Gracie Gold show…starring Polina Edmunds.
With much of the pre-competition talk surrounding Wagner and Gold's rivalry, the two entered the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships as heavy favorites. Edmunds, however, made it clear that this wasn't going to be a two-skater show.
"The top two international skaters faltered under the pressure," three-time U.S. champion Wagner said.
Edmunds blew away the ladies field at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, scoring 70.19 points -- putting her in the lead by 7.69 points. Gold (62.50), Tyler Pierce (62.45) and Wagner (62.41) sit 2-3-4 and are separated by less than one-tenth of a point.
Mirai Nagasu, who won the U.S. title the last time the event was held in Saint Paul in 2008, earned 59.64 points and sits in fifth place. She put out an impressive program considering her landing boot (right foot) ripped in the middle of her program.
Edmunds has been a strong competitor, but she struggled with growth spurts last year and came away with the 2015 U.S. pewter medal. With some fine tuning to her choreography, she has been putting the full package together and showed it off Thursday night.
"I tried to stay as calm and as relaxed as I could at a national championships," Edmunds said. "I have confidence in myself. I'm totally confident. I've been doing these jumps for six years now. There's really no excuse not to land them."
Gold was at a loss for words as to why she popped her opening triple lutz and doubled the second jump of an intended triple-triple.
"Yeah, I don't know," Gold said. "I just wasn't present in the moment. … I don't know. I just wasn't there. I don't know. I am just flummoxed. … I just wasn't there."
Wagner, who provided the most energy on the ice, shimmying through her coy routine to "Hip Hip Chin Chin," fell on her triple flip-triple toe.
"The triple-triple should be in my arsenal," said Wagner, last year's champion. "It's still a new jump."
Pierce, meanwhile, was one of the bigger surprises of the night. The 2013 U.S. novice champion and 2014 U.S. junior silver medalist struggled in recent competitions, finishing 19th at the 2015 World Junior Championships. She changed coaches and returned to Tammy Gambill in August.
The most dramatic moment of the night belonged to Nagasu. Skating to a cover version of the Imagine Dragons song "Demons," her routine was very well received by the audience. She turned a planned triple-triple into a triple-double but overall looked in good form. It was after she stepped off the ice, however, when she showed coach Tom Zakrajsek that her landing boot was cut on the cuff behind the lace hooks, making her performance that much more impressive.
According to Zakrajsek, Nagasu likely ripped it on the landing of her opening triple flip. Even though Nagasu said her boot felt loose, she took off and landed on that skate during a triple loop later in the program. She also nailed a double axel and finished with 59.64 points.
Moments after she completed the program, several skating boot experts were backstage examining her skate. The problem, a very uncommon one, was that the inside material of the boot had sheared the stitching. Zakrajsek said that Nagasu brought a second pair of skates with her to Saint Paul but was told the boot likely could be fixed overnight, although it might require duct tape. Zakrajsek said that he thought Nagasu would rather use her original boots than wear her backup pair.
Zakrajsek was impressed with Nagasu's effort.
"Well, it's amazing," Zakrajsek said. "I knew something wasn't right when she did the triple flip, but I didn't know that this happened."
Nagasu said she "absolutely" planned to do the triple-triple but said "the flip was a little swingy, so I knew it wasn't going to be a good triple-triple."
"Halfway through, I wasn't feeling on top of my game," Nagasu said. "Then my boot ripped. … I'm not sure when it happened. It started feeling weird, but I kept going because I am so well trained."
ICE CHIPS -- Courtney Hicks, who placed second at the 2015 NHK Trophy and was regarded as a contender for a podium spot coming into Saint Paul, fell twice and is in 11th place. Karen Chen, the 2015 U.S. bronze medalist, also struggled, falling twice and is in 12th. … Franchesca Chiera had all positive Grades of Execution and is in eighth. … Carly Gold, the twin sister of Gracie, is skating at her first U.S. championships and is in 15th place.