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.”

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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.

Andre De Grasse wants to ‘spoil’ Usain Bolt’s final season

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Canadian Andre De Grasse may be the best candidate to beat Usain Bolt in the Jamaican’s final major race before retirement at the world championships in August.

De Grasse is already looking ahead to a possible 100m showdown in London.

“Usain is one hell of an athlete, and for me to be one of the best I’ve got to beat him, so I’ve got to continue to keep working hard, stay motivated, stay focused,” De Grasse said Wednesday, according to the Canadian Press. “It’s his last world championships. It’s going to be tough for me. I’ve just got to try to spoil his parade.”

De Grasse, 22, bagged three medals in Rio — silver in the 200m and bronze in the 100m and 4x100m relay. Maybe his most memorable moment came in the 200m semifinals, when he exchanged smiles with Bolt before crossing the finish line.

Neither Bolt nor De Grasse has raced individually outdoors in 2017. De Grasse is slated to debut at a Diamond League meet in Doha on May 5.

Bolt has said he will race the 100m at his final worlds but not the 200m. This means he won’t have a showdown with Olympic 400m champion and world-record holder Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa.

But De Grasse could be a difficult challenge for the 30-year-old Bolt, who has slowed at recent major championships.

Bolt clocked world records at the 2008 Olympics (9.69 seconds) and 2009 World Championships (9.58) but slowed to 9.63 at London 2012 and then 9.77 in 2013 and 9.79 in 2015 and 9.81 at the Rio Games.

De Grasse made his worlds debut in 2015, sharing bronze in 9.92 seconds and then clocking 9.91 in Rio, behind Bolt and American Justin Gatlin.

Gatlin is now 35 years old and coming off an injury-slowed 2016 after he starred in 2014 and 2015. He also has not raced individually outdoors this season but is slated for a Diamond League meet in Shanghai on May 13.

Bolt has not lost a global championship final since 2007 (excluding his 2011 Worlds 100m false start). He was asked two years ago if he would stick to his 2017 retirement plan if he was beaten in his last race.

“I don’t think I could,” Bolt said. “On my last race, my last championship, I don’t think I could.”

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Caitlyn Jenner: Olympic decathlon title one half of ‘ultimate double’

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Caitlyn Jenner says she has ultimate double — winning the 1976 Olympic decathlon and 2015 Glamour “Woman of the Year.”

Jenner sat down with Seth Meyers for an interview during a media tour for her memoir, “The Secrets of My Life,” which was released Wednesday.

She briefly mentioned her Olympic experience, winning the Montreal 1976 decathlon.

Jenner related it to her current work within the transgender community, one that she said is marginalized and misunderstood with high murder and suicide rates.

“What I’m doing today is mort important than winning the Games more than 40 years ago,” Jenner said.

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