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updated: 1/12/2014 1:08 AM

Gracie Gold shines bright at U.S. Championships

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  • Gracie Gold reacts after skating in the women's free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday in Boston. Gold, 18, won her first U.S. title, posting 211.69 points to easily win the competition. The U.S. Olympic team will be announced on Sunday.

      Gracie Gold reacts after skating in the women's free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday in Boston. Gold, 18, won her first U.S. title, posting 211.69 points to easily win the competition. The U.S. Olympic team will be announced on Sunday.
    Associated Press

 
By Rachel Cohen
AP Sports Writer

BOSTON -- Gracie Gold won her first U.S. figure skating title Saturday night and all but guaranteed herself a spot at the Olympics.

Still to be decided is who joins her in Sochi after two-time defending champ Ashley Wagner finished a distant fourth after a mistake-marred free skate.

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Fifteen-year-old Polina Edmunds was second, and 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu was third in a resurgent performance. U.S. Figure Skating officials will announce Sunday which three women go to the Winter Games, taking into account past performances.

They will have a lot to think about.

"I felt like lead," Wagner said. "I'm in shock that that's what I put out at nationals. I'm embarrassed that I get so much attention for the skater that I am."

Gold, who hails from Springfield, Ill., and moved to Elk Grove Village for training, wasn't perfect but she didn't need to be after building a big lead in the short program. She finished with 211.69 points to beat Edmunds by more than 18 points.

Skating last, the 18-year-old Gold, who now trains in California under renowned coach Frank Carroll, knew what she had accomplished before she even completed her program. After landing her last double axel, she pumped both fists.

"I knew that was it," she said.

Gold was second behind Wagner in 2013, and in the year since, she now connects with her music along with just landing the jumps.

Edmunds was competing at senior nationals for the first time after winning the junior title last year. She doesn't have the expression yet of the older skaters, yet her poise was far beyond her years.

She fell on a triple flip but landed two triple jumps after that for six total. After her marks were announced, she sweetly waved to the camera, her smile wide and her eyes wider.

"Tonight was the night we all needed to prove ourselves, and I think I did prove myself," she said.

Nagasu finished fourth at the Vancouver Games as a 16-year-old, but that bubbly confidence seemed long gone in recent years. A U.S. champion at age 14 in 2008, she finished seventh the last two years.

Nagasu wore a serious expression for most of her James Bond-inspired performance Saturday, avoiding any major mistakes. When she saw she was in second behind Edmunds, she leapt out of her chair and buried her face in her hands.

Not only was Wagner by far the most accomplished skater in the field, she was considered the Americans' best chance for a medal in the sport other than ice dance world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. She was fifth at worlds, helping the U.S. earn a third Olympic berth, and won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final.

But her program fell apart right at the start. She tumbled to the ice on the second jump of a triple-triple combination, and from that moment on, her normal liveliness had drained away from her skating. Wagner fell again on a triple loop and failed to cleanly land two other triple jumps.

When it was over, Wagner stared blankly into the stands as the fans voiced their support for all her past successes.

Now she's at risk of just missing out on the Olympics for the second straight games. In 2010, she was third at nationals when the U.S. had only two spots.

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won the pairs title on Saturday. Among area skaters from the Chicago suburbs, Alexa Scimeca (Addison) and Christopher Knierim finished fourth overall, followed by Daniel O'Shea (Gurnee) and Tarah Kayne in fifth, DeeDee Leng (Naperville) and Timothy LeDuc in seventh, Rockne Brubaker (Algonquin) and Lindsay Davis in ninth, and Jessica Noelle Calalang (Glenview) and partner Zack Sidhu finished 11th overall in pairs. In ice dancing, Collin Brubaker of Algonquin and his partner finished ninth overall.

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