BOSTON — Gracie Gold proved how serious she is about making the 2014 Olympic team well before stepping onto the ice for Thursday’s short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
In September, the 18-year-old moved from Chicago to southern California to start training with the venerable Frank Carroll, former coach of two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan and 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek.
In November, at Carroll’s urging, Gold took the bold step of scrapping her short program, which he felt was too modern, and supplanting it with one set to a more classic, lyrical piece of music by Edvard Grieg.
And Thursday at TD Garden, where the country’s best figure skaters will make their final case for a spot on the Sochi-bound Olympic team, Gold took to heart Carroll’s essential advice to a gifted skater whose inconsistency on the biggest stages has undercut her dazzling jumping ability.
“He has really worked with me on calming everything down,” Gold explained following Wednesday’s final practice. “He told me, ‘Just relax and do what you do in practice. It’s the fact that you’re doing in the extraordinary venue that makes it extraordinary.’ ”
With an Olympic berth in the balance, Gold unveiled her new short program with the abandon of a veteran, getting terrific amplitude on her opening triple lutz-triple toe loop and delighting the crowd with elegant spins that reflected the beauty of Grieg’s music.
After all 21 skaters had competed, Gold stood in first place (72.12 points). Polina Edmunds, the 2013 U.S. national junior champion, was the surprise second-place finisher (66.75). Mirai Nagasu, who finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics, was third (65.44). And Ashley Wagner, 22, the West Potomac High graduate who’s seeking her third consecutive U.S. championship and first spot on an Olympic team, was relegated to fourth (64.71) after a rocky opening sequence.
“I honestly feel totally fine with where I am,” Wagner said. “I prefer to fight for things rather than feel like I’m being chased. My first national title, I was in third place and had to come up from that. So I’m fully prepared to do the same thing here.”
Gold took the ice to cheers in a red off-the-shoulder dress and with her blonde hair in a tight bun. And despite a technically rigorous program that opened with a triple lutz-triple toe loop, it was difficult to quibble with anything she did. She looked light as a hummingbird on her jumps and pliant as a rubber band on her layback spin. The moment she concluded the performance, she clasped her hand over her mouth as if she couldn’t believe her own perfection. And when her score was announced, she seemed on the brink of tears.
With less than one month before Sochi’s Opening Ceremonies, the figure skating championships serve two purposes: to crown national champions in women’s, men’s, pairs and ice dance and to settle the Olympic team.
The women’s competition ends with Saturday night’s long program. The victor won’t necessarily lock in a spot in Sochi. The 15-skater U.S. Olympic team will be announced Sunday, consisting of three women’s singles skaters, two men, three ice-dance couples and two pairs. The decisions will be based on the skaters’ body of work over the past year.
It was Wagner and Gold who ensured that the United States reclaimed its third women’s spot for the 2014 Games. A subpar showing by American women on the international stage heading into the 2010 Olympics meant the United States could send only two female skaters to Vancouver. Wagner, then 18, just missed the cut as the country’s third-place contender.
With an eye toward Sochi, Wagner has devoted this season to solidifying the triple-triple combination that distinguishes the world’s best female skaters. And her short program, set to Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” opens with it. But after what she called a “wonky” triple flip, she substituted a double toe loop for the planned triple as a precaution.
“Going into the triple flip-triple toe I had some demons to overcome,” Wagner said. “It’s hard to put 2010 behind, especially when it was that one mistake [that cost her an Olympic spot]. So I played it safe after that wonky triple flip, and I’m glad I did. I would have ended up on my butt.”
From there, she completed the program with flair but gave up plenty of points because of the downgrade.
Nagasu was the first skater to bring the crowd to its feet with a lovely program set to George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” which opened with a flawless triple flip-double toe loop.
But Edmunds, 15, who is being hailed as U.S. Figure Skating’s future, skated last and dazzled the crowd with the most technically rigorous program of the night, knocking Wagner from the podium in the process.
Notes: Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir stood in first place (73.13 points) after Thursday’s pairs short programs. Earlier, Maryland natives Lorraine McNamara, 13, and Quinn Carpenter, 16, won silver in the junior ice dance competition. And siblings Rachel and Michael Parsons of Rockville, 16 and 18 respectively, claimed bronze.