Women’s Free skate

The top contenders: The 2014 silver medalist, Edmunds is in pursuit of her first U.S. title and will skate Saturday to music from “Gone With The Wind.” 2014 champion Gracie Gold is in second place, even though she was way off her game in the short program. Ashley Wagner, who won her third U.S. title last year, sits in fourth after a short-program fall but has rallied many times before with her free skate. Surprise third-place finisher Tyler Pierce was seventh last year — her first time competing at nationals as a senior — and would make a big statement with a medal.

 

Cool as ice: Edmunds wasn’t the least bit bothered to let Wagner and Gold own the spotlight heading into the championships. “There is always pre-competition hype and buzz, and I don’t really pay attention to it,” she said. “I’ve never had the chance to be in this position before [as the short-program leader at nationals], so I’m really happy and excited that I’m finally here.” Edmunds stole the show from Wagner and Gold, the heavy favorites, with a smooth, assured short program Thursday that earned 70.19 points. Hindered by growth spurts last year, she still finished fourth at nationals and eighth at the world championships. Thursday, she earned the highest technical scores in the field and seemed to be the only skater in control of her nerves. “Every competition has the same [degree of pressure],” she said, in direct opposition to Wagner’s contention that nationals are uniquely nerve-racking. “I personally don’t believe any competition big or small has a different nerve system. For me, it’s all about practice and getting comfortable with [her programs].”

 

Down, but not out: Wagner was remarkably upbeat after falling on her opening jump combination Thursday and scoring 62.41 points. Only last month, she noted, she rebounded from an awful short program at the Grand Prix Final; a personal-best score in the free skate moved her from seventh place to fourth, and she missed the podium by only 1.32 points. She is supremely confident in her free skate, set to music from the film “Moulin Rouge.” “If I do a long program [like she did at the Grand Prix Final], I’m not saying it’s in the bag,” Wagner said. “But my long program is more than capable of making up a 15-point difference. I’m not saying I have an easy job, but the long program is my game.”

 

No excuses: Gold seemed at a loss to explain how her short program fell apart as soon as it began. She was supposed to start with a triple lutz-triple toe combo, but she singled the lutz and abandoned the toeloop. Gold hit the rest of her program and added a jump combination to score 62.50 and take second. Like Wagner, she said her long program — performed to Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” — is her strength. She also mirrored Wagner in her belief that she still is capable of winning her second U.S. title. “I was so ready,” Gold said of her short program. “I just wasn’t there. It took a mistake to shock me back in. Life isn’t always a fairy tale. Just because you go big and work hard, it’s not always like a movie. But it’s not a tragedy yet. I can still turn this around.”

RACHEL BLOUNT