Still in her layback spin, her music playing, Gracie Gold couldn’t help herself.”I was thinking, `Oh my God. I have a really great chance of going to the Olympics,'” she said. “Maybe a little premature, I still had a spin to finish. But it was definitely there.”
It’s about the only thing that is definite.
Gold won her first title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, all but ensuring herself a spot at the Sochi Olympics. But the remaining two spots are still up for grabs following two-time champion Ashley Wagner’s stunning meltdown and uncertainty over whether runner-up Polina Edmunds is even eligible for the Winter Games.
Wagner finished a distant fourth, eight points behind 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu. Polina Edmunds, who at 15 was competing in her first senior event of any kind, was second.
“Oh, that’s going to be a rough one,” said Frank Carroll, Gold’s coach. “How can you deny Mirai after that performance tonight? How do you deny Wagner after all she’s done?
“Thank God it’s not me (making the decision).”
The Olympic team will be announced Sunday afternoon, and U.S. Figure Skating isn’t locked into sending the top three women from nationals. It doesn’t even have to take the national champion. Yes, results at nationals are considered, but so are previous performances in hopes the U.S. will send its strongest, most competitive team.
That would seem to work in Wagner’s favor. She’s the only American woman who’s done anything of note internationally the last two seasons, winning back-to-back medals at the Grand Prix final and finishing in the top five at the last two world championships.
“I did what I did and we will see what happens after this,” Wagner said. “Luckily I had a decent season. That definitely helps my case. But beyond that, I am embarrassed for that program. Very embarrassed.”
But at 15, Edmunds is the future of U.S. skating. Nagasu was the only one of the top women to skate cleanly, and her performances reminded everyone of what a huge talent she is. Consistency has never been her strong suit, however, with her career bottoming out since she finished fourth at the Vancouver Olympics.
“The only thing I can brag about now is that I ‘m the only person with Olympic experience. So I know how hard it can get,” Nagasu said. “I don’t know what my federation will do. All I can say is I did what I had to today. … I’ll have to respect any choice that they make.”
Whether Edmunds is even eligible for Sochi was initially in question. Skaters have to achieve a minimum technical score at an international event sanctioned by the International Skating Union, and it wasn’t clear if Edmunds’ junior results would count.
But after checking with the ISU, U.S. Figure Skating declared that she is eligible, achieving the required scores at two competitions earlier this season.
All of this drama could have been avoided had Wagner skated cleanly. Or at least not made so many mistakes.
After a disappointing short program left her in fourth place, Wagner said she planned to earn her trip to Sochi, not be handed a spot. And she sure looked ready, bopping to the arena music and waving to someone in the crowd when she took the ice for warm-ups. When it was her turn to skate, she banged her hands twice on the boards, then gave a dejected Christina Gao an encouraging hug as Gao left the ice.
She was soon in need of one herself.
Wagner managed only four clean triples, and her confidence disappeared after she two-footed the first jump and fell on the second of her opening triple-triple combination.
“I was swearing like a sailor,” Wagner said.
She didn’t have any of her usual spunk or fire, and was so painfully slow and cautious it sucked all the energy out of the building. She fell on a triple loop and appeared to two-foot another triple flip in a triple-double combo.
Tears filled her eyes when she finished, and she repeatedly mouthed, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“It just got to me,” Wagner said. “It was hard. It was a hard, hard, hard performance, and I’m embarrassed that it’s what I put out at nationals.”
Her only chance at the podium was if Edmunds, Nagasu or Gold had a similar collapse. None of them did.
Gold turned out of a triple flip and had to put a hand down to keep from falling to the ice. But unlike in the past, when one mistake would have been enough to derail her, she brushed it off and finished a program worthy of her name.
When her winning scores were announced, she jumped to her feet, thrust her right fist in the air and shouted, “Yes! Yes!”
Edmunds fell on a triple flip, and there’s little to her skating besides her jumps. She showed no feel or connection to the music, and she couldn’t duplicate her speed or energy from the short program.
But that could come with age – and experience.
“Tonight was the night to prove yourself, and I think that we all did the best we could,” Edmunds said. “The results are the results. So nobody can really change that.”