Gracie Gold made no excuses, nor did she try to hide her disappointment. “I really wanted to light the world on fire,” she said, after starting the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a flawed short program Thursday night. “But I can still turn this around.”
In retrospect, Gold said, feeling a little heat wasn’t so bad. Saturday, her “Firebird” free skate blazed brightly at Xcel Energy Center, lifting her to her second national title. A brilliant performance studded with seven triple jumps earned 147.96 points, giving Gold a total of 210.46 and pushing her past pacesetter Polina Edmunds.
Gold entered the free skate 7.69 points behind Edmunds, who finished first in the short program. Edmunds skated a well-executed program to music from “Gone With The Wind” and scored 137.32, leaving her with a total of 207.51 and her second silver medal at nationals.
Defending champ Ashley Wagner moved up from fourth place to third with a strong skate to “Moulin Rouge,” but a blown triple lutz ended her chances at a repeat. The victory earned Gold, 20, an automatic place on the U.S. team for next month’s world championships, and Edmunds and Wagner are expected to join her.
“It was almost better, knowing I couldn’t miss anything,” Gold said. “I trained so hard for this competition. I needed to be the best Firebird I could be.
“I’m just so happy and so thankful. I feel so blessed.”
Longtime rivals Gold and Wagner entered the competition as the favorites, but each has had trouble putting together two clean programs when the stakes are highest. Both made costly mistakes in their short programs, as Wagner fell on a jump and Gold turned her opening triple lutz into a single.
Gold’s frustration showed after the skate, when she said she was “flummoxed” and struggled to explain why she was not mentally engaged. She and Wagner both had faith that their free skates were strong enough to vault them onto the podium, and Gold rebounded with a stunning performance that left her wiping away tears when it ended.
She faltered in her short program at last month’s Grand Prix Final and roared back in the long, barely missing the podium. Despite being 7.78 points out of the lead, Wagner said she felt well positioned to make a run at the title Saturday.
Coach Rafael Arutunian urged her to drop the happy talk and get mad. She skated so well that she got overexcited near the end of her performance, causing her to miss the triple lutz — the last jump of the program.
“I got into that mode where I was just a ferocious competitor and followed through,” said Wagner, 24, who won her third bronze at nationals to go with three golds. “I’m bummed about the lutz. But I don’t want the lutz to overshadow what is probably my best long program by far.”
Edmunds, 17, pushed aside the pressure of nationals and skated two programs without a major mistake. She was downgraded on one jump Saturday, a triple lutz that she underrotated.
“Everything went really great for me,” said Edmunds, who also won silver in 2014. “My goal was to skate two clean programs. I really think I showed a champion’s mentality.”
Mirai Nagasu, who won her only U.S. title at Xcel in 2008, finished fourth. She took fifth place in the short program despite skating most of it with a torn right boot.
Saturday, that boot was wrapped with white duct tape. It held together, and so did Nagasu. She played to the crowd in a radiant skate to music from the film “The Great Gatsby,” rebounding from her 10th-place performance at last year’s nationals.
Gold was the last skater to perform, and she created a fitting finale. Wearing a glittering red dress with flames lapping up the sleeves, Gold burned up the ice — and when the scores came up, she jumped up and down, screaming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“I am just over the moon,” Gold said. “To win another U.S. title means so much to me. It feels good that all of my hard work paid off.”