Ashley Wagner

Preview: Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold headline Ladies’ field at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Four years after they represented the U.S. at the Vancouver Games, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu return to the U.S. Championships this week in Boston for another shot at the Olympics, but they aren’t the headliners in the chase for the team’s three spots in Sochi.

Instead, such distinction belongs to reigning and two-time national champion Ashley Wagner, who just missed out on the Vancouver team by placing third in 2010, and teenager Gracie Gold, who vaulted to a second-place finish at Nationals a year ago in her senior debut.

The ladies skate Thursday and Saturday nights at TD Garden with the Olympic selections being announced Sunday at a noon press conference.

“I’ve been training really hard going into Nationals, which is obviously such an important event this year,” said Wagner, who at age 22 is the favorite for a third straight U.S. title. “I want to do everything that I can do make sure I’m ready.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Previews: Men | Women | Ice Dance | Pairs | Schedule

Gold will look to do the same after her first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. A year ago at Nationals she was ninth after the short program – beset by nerves – before she won the free skate, launching her to a silver-medal finish.

“The senior ladies – this is a big event,” Gold told reporters last week on a conference call. “I just need to trust my training in order to have a steadier Nationals this year, but with the same great outcome.”

Any color of medal for the girl called Gold would put Gracie in a strong position to be named to one of the three spots on the U.S. team this year after she won bronze at Skate Canada and placed fourth at the Grand Prix stop in Tokyo.

But nothing is certain for Wagner or Gold as a flurry of talented skater nip at their boots for the chance to head to Russia.

Agnes Zawadzki is one of them, the 19-year-old Chicago native having placed third at the last two U.S. Championships.

Zawadzki had struggles through the Grand Prix season, however, placing sixth and seventh at two events after changing back to her old coach, Tom Zakrajsek, in October, who also works with reigning U.S. men’s champion Max Aaron.

“I felt like that definitely was not what I wanted to present for the season, especially with the Olympics approaching,” Zawadzki said in an interview with NBCOlympics.com. “But I sat I’ve felt more consistent and confident with Tom and he’s kicking my butt. We’re working so hard.”

Boston-based Christina Gao also had difficulty at her Grand Prix assignments, placing fourth at Skate Canada and eighth in Paris. She’s taken the year off from Harvard to focus on her Olympic quest, but will need to snap a streak of four straight fifth-place finishes at Nationals in order to have a chance to make the team.

“[The Boston skaters] have such great programs this year that when we’re training together it’s such a good energy prior to the Olympics,” Gao said. “I can only imagine what it will feel like inside TD Garden. I’m really excited because I have a ton of friends at Harvard who I’ve told need to come and get tickets so they can come and watch.”

But there are other skaters for fans – and competitors – to watch, as well. Nagasu is perhaps the most notable, having been fourth at the 2010 Olympics and recently placing third at the Cup of Russia in November, the season’s final Grand Prix stop. Like Gao, she’ll need to up a string of two-straight seventh-place finishes to earn a shot at Sochi.

Injuries have derailed Flatt’s efforts, the 2010 national champion now making a comeback of sorts at 21 years old. The Stanford junior qualified via regional and sectional events and – always known as a steady skater – will look to deliver two reliable programs in Boston.

Courtney Hicks, fourth at Nationals a year ago, is coming off a solid season in which she won two Senior B events, just a step below the Grand Prix level. The 18-year-old beat Gold at the season-opening U.S. Figure Skating Classic in September in Salt Lake City and was fifth at Skate Canada.

Samantha Cesario, 20, aims to build off of two top-five finishes on the Grand Prix circuit from the year while Polina Edmunds, the reigning U.S. junior champion, won two junior Grand Prix gold medals this season and looks to make a splash at the age of 15.

Two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny ended her Olympic bid earlier this season with an ongoing injury, while two-time U.S. medalist Caroline Zhang struggled to a 10th-place finish at Skate America in October.

Wagner, who has placed fourth (2012) and fifth (2013) at the last two World Championships, says that the third-place finish that left her off the team in 2010 at Nationals has certainly motivated her.

“2010 absolutely still drives me,” she told reporters last week. “I owe it to myself for everything that I’ve given up – the sacrifices, the struggles – to make it onto this Olympic team and to do everything that I possibly can to make it onto the podium.”

NBC will air live coverage of the Ladies’ free skate Saturday night from 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern, as well as host a livestream of the event on NBCOlympics.com.

Aleec Harris victorious in 110m hurdles; Allyson Felix scratches 200m at USAs

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Aleec Harris stated that his goal for the weekend was to win a USA flag to give to his wife and son, who were watching his races from the stands.

He won the men’s 110m hurdles with a time of 13.24 seconds, despite a significant headwind of 1.7 meters per second at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.

Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion in the event who had a kidney transplant two years ago, acknowledged the winds were “no joke.” He clocked 13.31, followed by Devon Allen in third with a time of 13.34. All three will race at the world championships later this summer in London.

In the women’s 200m, Deajah Stevens won with a convincing time of 22.30; Kimberlyn Duncan followed with 22.59 and Tori Bowie in third at 22.60.

Allyson Felix scratched the women’s 200m, choosing instead to focus on defending her world title in the 400m.

Ameer Webb edged Christian Coleman by 0.01 seconds in the men’s 200m, though both men will represent the U.S. at the world championships in London later this summer.

Evan Jager, the Olympic silver medalist, won the 3000m Steeplechase in a time of 8:16.88, marking his sixth national title.

In the men’s shot put, Olympic champ Ryan Crouser set a meet record of 74 feet, 3 ¾ inches – the longest throw in the world in almost 14 years. He’s aiming for the world record. 2016 silver medalist Joe Kovach finished second with a throw of 73-4.

Clayton Murphy, 800m bronze medalist in Rio, scratched the 800m after sustaining two sore hamstrings Saturday and will not be at the world championships. Donavan Brazier won in 1:44.14.

MORE: Matthew Centrowitz, after ‘rock bottom,’ glad with runner-up at USAs

Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and U.S. women’s hockey team to appear in ESPN’s Body Issue

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Ashley Wagner, Gus Kenworthy, and members of the U.S. women’s hockey team are just some of the Olympians and 2018 Olympic hopefuls featured in ESPN The Magazine’s annual body issue, on newsstands July 7. In all, 23 athletes will be featured in this year’s edition.

U.S. hockey players Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Meghan Duggan, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Alex Rigsby will join U.S. soccer player Julie Ertz and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

Danish tennis pro and two-time Olympian Caroline Wozniacki is also featured, among a number of NBA, MLB, and NFL players.

Novlene Williams-Mills, from Jamaica, will be the first breast cancer survivor to appear in the magazine. The four-time Olympian owns three silver medals and one bronze from the 4x400m relays.

The 2016 edition featured 19 athletes, 11 of whom were Olympians.

Photos, interviews, and videos will begin to roll out this week in anticipation of the release.

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