Kwan: Gold wins nationals, but shows she’s ready for more
You always remember your first. For Gracie Gold, few will forget it.
The 18-year-old from Newton, Mass., put on a dominating performance in her free skate Saturday night at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, overcoming one mistake to win by a wide 18-point margin over a surprising second-place Polina Edmunds. Mirai Nagasu finished third and two-time defending Nationals champion Ashley Wagner was fourth.
Gold started off her program with a big bang with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination followed by a double axel/triple toe loop. As she said in her post-skate comments, in her flying combination spin that followed, she was already thinking she was well on her way to victory. She may have stumbled in her triple flip, but by the end of her four-minute program she was pumping her fists in glory because she knew that the title was secured.
Sure enough, the final scores came out and Gold claimed her first senior-level championship. For Gracie to go to the Olympics as national champion, she’ll be more confident than she already is. If you look at her technical ability, it’s comparable to the current Olympic champion, South Korea’s Yuna Kim, so I’m sure she feels that a gold medal is within reach.
Everything is coming together at the perfect time for Gold. She’s got her new short program (which was debuted here Friday night), an experienced coach who will help get her there, and now a gold medal under her belt.
Knowing her coach (and my former coach) Frank Carroll like I do, I know he’ll be fine-tuning every little detail of her programs, making sure she’s well trained and fit to represent the United States. He’s been through it all; as Gracie jokes, he’s got “over 100 years of experience!” He’s been to so many Olympic Games and brought back medals, most recently with Evan Lysacek in Vancouver, so he knows a thing or two about developing champions. I remember when I started working with Frank one of the first things he did was tell me what it takes to win. There’s no doubt that he’s doing the same with Gracie.
The other big story of the night is Wagner, who came to Boston as the two-time defending US champion, but fell twice in her program and finished fourth overall.
When I watched her skate back to her coach Rafael Arutunian before she began her program I felt that she had a moment of hesitation. And after falling on her first jump pass — a triple flip/triple toe loop — I think it rattled her nerves a bit. As Wagner has said many times, she starts two-footing jumps when she lacks confidence. That’s what seemed to happen Saturday night.
Throughout her free skate she appeared very tentative, almost as if she was telling herself, “I need this, I need this,” as opposed to focusing on technique and the performance. As Ashley said, “I am here to get to that podium. I am here to earn that spot.” Unfortunately, her skate this evening left her 8 points away from reaching the podium, and 28.95 points from the leader.
Ashley was in great shape leading into these championships and she never anticipated a result like this. Now as she sits in fourth place, the question is whether or not she’ll be added to the Olympic Team — removing a fellow skater who reached the podium. “I don’t want to feel like I took away someone’s spot,” Wagner said.
The result will make for a tough decision for the committee that determines which three ladies skaters will represent the USA in Sochi. That selection group will take not only this weekend’s performances into account, but several others this season before making its decisions.
Ahead of Wagner, Polina Edmunds finished an impressive second, competing in her first senior-level competition. In her interview, she pointed out that she’s so young that she had nothing to lose at Nationals. That’s the best mindset to be in. It’s “Game on!” and it showed. It wasn’t the skate of Polina’s life as she made one mistake, but she’ll learn from that and apply it to whatever comes next — whether that is Sochi or not. She’s got a bright future ahead of her. She’s our next star.
In third place, Mirai Nagasu always delivers when the pressure is on and tonight was no different. Coming into these Championships people were probably already counting her out, but remember, she finished fourth at the last Olympics and it wasn’t by accident. She was so close to bronze in Vancouver, and tonight she showed that experience and her fighting spirit could earn her a possible spot on the team.
Now the focus turns to who makes the team. The three ladies selected for the US Olympic team, along with the two pairs and three ice dancing teams, will be named shortly after noon ET on Sunday with the final two men’s selections being announced following the men’s free skate on Sunday afternoon.
Once they get named, everybody will go home and realize they have the biggest challenge ahead of them. You never come home from Nationals and take a few days off. The Olympics are right around the corner and athletes know it. They don’t have a moment to spare.