Gracie Gold soars as Ashley Wagner sinks to fourth at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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BOSTON — What a difference a year can make.

Twelve months ago at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Gracie Gold skated as the reigning junior champion in her first senior Nationals and bombed in her short program, finishing ninth and inspiring not-so-golden headlines.

But she rebounded from that start, winning the free skate and finishing second, setting up the 18-year-old for Olympic hype over the last year.

Thursday night at the U.S. Championships Gracie was golden from the start, attacking her short program in front of an enthused TD Garden crowd in Boston and claiming first place with a 72.12.

And the skater who beat her a year ago? Two-time national champion Ashley Wagner didn’t hit her triple-triple combination, a mistake that would drop her to fourth leading into the free skate.

But now with the National – and Olympic – pressure on Gold’s shoulders, can she be as good of a front-runner as she was an underdog?

“I had a wonderful performance tonight and I got a really great score,” Gold said of her 72.12, her best short ever. “It’s a new program for me so there were a couple of unknowns going in, but I was really glad that I was able to trust my training because I’ve worked really hard with Frank.”

“Frank” is Frank Carroll, the legendary skating coach of Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek whom Gold began working with in September and the impetus behind her switch to Gershwin’s “Three Preludes” for her short program, a decision made just weeks ago.

The current junior national champion, 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, closed the night out with a standing-ovation performance, putting her ahead of Wagner in second. Mirai Nagasu, an Olympian in 2010, was third.

“I think that I’m in a great position going into the long program – I really am happy with where I am,” Wagner told NBCOlympics.com after her skate. “Tara Lipinski stopped by as I got off the ice and told me, ‘Fourth is exactly where I was [in 1998].’ So I think I have to fight, but I prefer to fight.”

Wagner will have to fight plenty hard as she tries to work off a six-point-plus deficit against Gold, who beat her in the free skate at Nationals a year ago. Wagner finished with a 64.71; Edmunds scored a 66.75 and Nagasu a 65.44.

Olympic hopefuls Christina Gao and Agnes Zawadzki both struggled in their short programs, Gao bobbling on a step sequence and finishing sixth and Zawadzki doubling a planned triple jump, plummeting to 13th. The Colorado-based Zawadzki buried her face in her hands as her scores flashed up, fighting back tears.

But there were tears of joy for Gold, who in an Olympic season has been up and down while Wagner had been the solid one coming in.

Gold, a Boston native and now Los Angeles resident, opened with a triple Lutz-triple toe combination that was high but seamless, then executed a triple loop and double Axel later in the program, receiving loud approval from a big crowd in TD Garden.

Nagasu was the one who got the most raucous cheers of the night as the 20-year-old – who has had four years of struggles since just missing out on the Olympic podium in Vancouver – delivered a sturdy and stirring program, the 2008 national champ skating to another Gershwin piece, “The Man I Love.”

Edmunds was the 21st of 21 skaters Thursday night, but didn’t seemed phased by the occasion or the fact that she was in her first senior competition.

“I’m not really surprised,” the San Jose native said. “I know everything I need to do so when I came out here tonight I just got into the zone.”

For Gold, she might have her first medal to match her name at the senior level herself.

“You know, it’s all about tunnel vision for me,” Gold told reporters about keeping her focus. “For me it’s about turning off all social media, not texting, just putting on my headphones and skating the program I skate in practice.”

Castelli/Shnapir deliver for home crowd in pairs

Aly Raisman calls out airport worker for ‘muscles’ comment

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Three-time Olympic champion Aly Raisman called out a male airport security worker who she says questioned whether she had enough muscles to be a gymnast.

Raisman posted on Twitter on Wednesday that after a female Transportation Security Administration worker said she recognized Raisman by her biceps, a male employee said, “I don’t see any muscles.” Raisman called the encounter “rude & uncomfortable.”

Raisman, who turned 23 Thursday, says she works “very hard to be healthy & fit.” She says that if a man can’t compliment a girl’s muscles, he’s sexist.

Raisman didn’t say where or when the airport exchange took place.

Raisman previously authored a powerful social media post about body image, shouting out “to all the boys from 5th-9th grade who made fun of me for being ‘too strong’” in November.

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MORE: U.S. gymnasts give emotional testimony about sexual abuse

 

House OKs bill requiring sports groups to report sex abuse

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Angered by allegations that some members of USA Gymnastics were sexually abused, the House overwhelmingly backed legislation on Thursday that requires amateur sports groups recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee to report claims of sexual abuse to police.

The vote was 415-3, with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., saying the Olympic community clearly had failed to protect its athletes and must do better.

The legislation stems from allegations that a sports doctor for USA Gymnastics sexually assaulted gymnasts he treated for hip and back injuries. The doctor, Larry Nassar, has denied wrongdoing. He is currently the defendant in four separate criminal cases. In one of the cases, a Michigan judge is deciding whether there’s enough evidence to send the former Michigan State University doctor to trial on allegations he sexually assaulted seven gymnasts at a campus clinic or at his home basement.

Three former elite U.S. gymnasts, including 2000 Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, have also accused Nassar of touching them inappropriately while he disguised the abuse as treatment. In all, more than 100 women have alleged they were abused by Nassar over more than two decades.

“I understand how challenging it is to share painful stories of sexual abuse, and I am proud of the brave gymnasts who have shared their stories — stories that should never have happened, and stories that went inexcusably unanswered,” Brooks said. “Their stories demand our attention and action.”

The bill also relaxes the statute of limitations for those seeking civil damages. Victims alleging they were abused will have 10 years from the time they reach adulthood to file a civil lawsuit.

The bill also clarifies that once a victim has established that harm occurred, the court will presume damages of $150,000.

A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has cleared a Senate panel. Feinstein said her legislation would make it safe and easy for victims to report abuse and that organizations such as USA Gymnastics would have to ensure coaches and personnel are trained in sexual abuse prevention.

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MORE: U.S. gymnasts give emotional testimony about sexual abuse