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.

Lindsey Vonn’s winning streak snapped

Lindsey Vonn
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For the first time in 13 World Cup speed races, Lindsey Vonn crossed the finish line and saw a number other than “1” next to her name.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised when I saw [the scoreboard],” Vonn said. “I knew that I didn’t ski my best, and I knew that I didn’t risk everything.”

Vonn was beaten by Swiss Lara Gut and German Viktoria Rebensburg in a World Cup super-G in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on Sunday.

Gut was .15 faster than Rebensburg and .23 better than Vonn, who still broke Renate Götschl‘s record with her 42nd World Cup super-G podium. Full results are here.

“It’s a good day at the office,” Vonn told media. “I’m older and wiser now and to get to the finish healthy and to be in third is still a pretty darn good day.”

Vonn had a clear error near the end of the course, losing balance and lifting her right ski off the snow, but she was already behind Gut in the two most recent split times. The mistake may have cost Vonn second place, though.

“Today was just not one of those days where I really felt like putting it all on the line,” Vonn said. “I’ve had a great season so far, and I want to keep it going.”

Gut earned the victory, one day after she was a disappointing 14th in a downhill won by Vonn.

“It’s not true that Lindsey is unbeatable,” Gut said, according to The Associated Press. “All of us just have to step on it.”

Vonn had won 11 of her previous 12 World Cup downhill or super-G starts, including five straight super-Gs. In the only non-victory in that stretch, she skied off course and recorded a DNF in a downhill.

On Sunday, Gut cut into Vonn’s standings lead for the World Cup overall title, the sport’s biggest prize this season with no Olympics or World Championships. Vonn now leads Gut by 87 points through 25 of a scheduled 41 races.

Vonn remains on 76 World Cup victories, 10 shy of retired Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record.

The World Cup resumes with a downhill in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on Saturday.

MORE: American podiums in first race on 2018 Olympic course

Chloe Kim lands back-to-back 1080s, scores perfect 100 (video)

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Chloe Kim notched arguably the most impressive feat of her young snowboarding career, becoming the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s and scoring a perfect 100 at the U.S. Grand Prix in Park City, Utah, on Saturday.

Kim, 15 and the two-time reigning Winter X Games champion, may have become the second rider to ever score 100 in a top-level halfpipe contest.

When Shaun White scored the first 100 in X Games history in 2012, “it was the first perfect score and perfect run ever seen in a halfpipe contest,” according to the Denver Post. In that run, White reportedly became the first rider to land back-to-back double cork 1260s.

Nobody has scored 100 in an X Games or the Olympics since. The 100-point scoring system was first used at the Olympics in 2014.

Like White, Kim’s perfect run came on a “victory lap,” after she had already clinched the win in an earlier run.

After Kim finished her run, three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark raised Kim’s left arm. When the 100-point score came up, Clark receded and allowed Kim to soak in the moment.

Clark, who is 17 years older than Kim, became the first woman to land a 1080 in 2011.

Kim, who was too young for the Sochi 2014 Olympics, is slated to compete in the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, later this month.

MORE: Shaun White misses X Games, plans another competition