BOSTON — Four years of work after narrowly missing the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 were summed up Saturday in two words mouthed by Ashley Wagner after falling twice in a nerve-stricken performance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
“I’m sorry,” Wagner said, fighting back tears as she looked in the direction of the TV cameras at Boston’s TD Garden, where the two-time U.S. national champion failed to defend her title and, of greater concern, jeopardized her prospects for making the Sochi-bound 2014 Olympic team.
Wagner finished fourth, just out of the medals that would have guaranteed her the Olympic berth she has coveted for so many years.
“It’s embarrassing, as two-time national champion, to put out a performance like this,” Wagner said. “As soon as they called my name my legs felt like lead. I couldn’t shake it out.”
Taking the gold was the aptly named Gracie Gold, 18, who took a commanding lead into Saturday’s free skate and expanded on it with a brave and artfully rendered program that included four triple jumps in the first 55 seconds. With it, Gold was crowned the 2014 U.S. champion, beating all comers with a commanding score of 211.69 points.
The silver medal went to 15-year-old Polina Edmunds (193.63), the 2013 U.S. junior champion, who has exploded like a shooting star these last four days. But it won’t be clear until Sunday, when the U.S. Olympic team is named, whether this overnight star will be on the roster for Sochi.
Equally surprising was Mirai Nagasu, the 2010 Olympian whose consistency has never matched her talent. Competing without a coach, the 20-year-old Nagasu brought the house down with her stylish ode to James Bond, which included six triple jumps and a double axel (190.74).
Wagner (182.74), the fifth-to-last skater to compete, could only watch on TV after her shaky performance and hope that any one of the three skaters who finished ahead of her in Thursdays’ short program — Gold, Edmunds and Nagasu — stumbled badly. While none was flawless, their missteps weren’t grave enough to relegate them below Wagner.
Still, there’s no guarantee that Saturday’s podium finishers will represent the United States in Sochi.
U.S. Figure Skating officials look through a broader lens in selecting the Olympic team, considering who has proven themselves on the international stage, who has developed a reputation among judges and who can stand up to pressure.
By failing to finish among the top three, Wagner has complicated U.S. Figure Skating’s decision-making in awarding the three Olympic spots.
Said Wagner: “We’ll see what happens after this. Luckily I had a decent season so that definitely helps my case.”
For nearly two hours after the competition ended, it was an open question whether Edmunds would even qualify for the 2014 Olympic team under International Skating Union rules, which require skaters to earn a minimum score in international competition in the year preceding the Games. The wrinkle with Edmunds was that she has never competed in senior events internationally; her entire international résumé is built on the junior level events.
Shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday, just 11 hours before U.S. Figure Skating officials are scheduled to name the Sochi Olympic team, they received word from the ISU that Edmunds would be eligible.
When the Olympic selection committee meets behind closed doors Sunday morning, some will argue that Wagner has earned a spot on the 2014 Olympic team through her strong results over the past two years. A two-time U.S. champion, Wagner, a West Potomac High graduate, has won a medal in her last six consecutive international events.
Her strong performances on the international stage have rehabilitated the global profile of U.S. figure skating, which had lapsed since the eras of Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes. U.S. women were shut out of the medals at the 2010 Olympics for the first time since 1964.
But it likely will be difficult for officials to explain their rationale in passing over either the country’s reigning silver or bronze medalist.
Anticipating such a scenario, Edmunds’s coach, David Glynn, started lobbying for his skater after the short program, stating that he felt figure-skating officials had no choice but to send the top three finishers at the U.S. Championships to Sochi.
What tripped up Wagner on Saturday was the riskiest sequence of her program — the triple flip-triple toe combination that comes in the opening minute. She has drilled it all season, but she downgraded it to a triple-double in Thursday’s short program, which accounted for her fourth-place result. Saturday, determined to deliver it in full, she fell on the triple toe.
A second fall followed, and she omitted another jump from the program, which was set to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
The normally steely Wagner looked devastated as she took her bows. And as she waited for her scores to be posted, she was visibly agitated, explaining to her coaches, “I was just so tight,” and apologizing again.
Edmunds planned the most ambitious free skate, packing eight triple jumps into a 4-minute 40-second performance set to Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt.” She fell once, but carried on, unflustered as she raced on to the jumps that followed.
Gold, the 2012 U.S. Junior champion and 2013 U.S. silver medalist, skated last and seized the stage. Skating to Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty,” she had a flawless start but stumbled out of a triple Lutz, collected herself and skated on.
Earlier Saturday, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White claimed a record sixth consecutive U.S. Championship. Madison Chock and Evan Bates (181.44) took silver, and siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani (170.44) got bronze.
Boston area natives Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won the pairs title (205.7), with Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay (201.72) claiming silver. The bronze went to Caydee Denney and John Coughlin (201.43). The U.S. will send just two pairs teams to Sochi.