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

Caeleb Dressel, Chase Kalisz open post-Phelps era with world titles

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In a 20-minute span, the future of U.S. men’s swimming may have arrived in Budapest on Thursday.

Chase Kalisz, 23, and Caeleb Dressel, 20, each bagged his first major individual gold medal at the world championships. They headlined a three-gold day for Team USA, which was anchored by Katie Ledecky bouncing back from her first major defeat to lead the 4x200m free relay to gold.

Kalisz ensured the 200m individual medley crown stayed with the U.S., fulfilling years of promise and succeeding longtime training partner Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in the event.

Dressel, the youngest U.S. man to win an individual Olympic or world title since 2005, broke his American record in the 100m freestyle to prevail by a distant seven tenths of a second in 47.17. Nathan Adrian, the 2012 Olympic champion, made it the first one-two U.S. men’s finish in a global 100m free since the Seoul 1988 Games.

Kalisz won the 200m IM in 1:55.56, by .45 over Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and .72 over China’s Wang Shun, who took silver and bronze in Rio behind Phelps. Kalisz overtook Hagino on the third leg, breaststroke, with the fastest split in the field, and held on in the last 50 meters of freestyle.

Phelps and Lochte had combined to win every Olympic and world title in the 200m IM from 2003 through 2016. That’s four Olympics — all won by Phelps — and seven worlds — the first three titles taken by Phelps, the last four by Lochte.

“Those two are my idols,” Kalisz said. “No one’s ever going to replace those guys. Those guys are going to be what, hopefully, my kids are probably going to be talking about those two”

Phelps retired after the Rio Olympics. Lochte isn’t in Budapest due to his suspension following his Rio gas-station incident, but plans to make a run for Tokyo 2020 at age 35.

For now, U.S. men’s swimming is led by Kalisz, Dressel and Ryan Murphy, the 22-year-old who swept the backstrokes in Rio.

Kalisz and Dressel are only the third and fourth U.S. men other than Phelps or Lochte to win individual world titles since 2009 (Aaron PeirsolMatt Grevers).

“We’re still in a rebuilding phase,” said Kalisz, previously a world team member in 2013, 2015. “This has been probably the best world championships I’ve been to as far as the team being close.”

Kalisz, who took 400m IM silver at his first Olympics in Rio, may just be getting started.

He can go for double IM gold in the 400m, his trademark event, in Budapest on Sunday.

“When I had the opportunity to step into the 200m IM, it was an honor,” Kalisz said on NBCSN. “I like [the 200m IM] a lot more than the 400m IM. It doesn’t hurt as bad. If you were to tell me four months ago that would be my first world title [in the 200m IM rather than the 400m IM], I probably would have laughed in your face.”

Dressel nearly quit swimming three years ago as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Then, under perhaps more pressure than any swimmer in Rio, swam a personal-best time in his very first Olympic splash leading off the 4x100m free relay team to gold.

Dressel has only improved after his junior year at the University of Florida. He qualified to swim in up to nine events in Budapest and is now up to three golds with a few more events left. He led off the 4x100m free relay on Sunday with an American record in the 100m free, then went even lower in Thursday’s final.

“Before the race, I was like, hey man, this is going to be the first of many, many finals that you’re going to be in,” said Adrian, who took bronze in Rio, where Dressel was sixth. “He’s going to be incredible in the years to come.”

In other events Thursday, Spain’s Mireia Belmonte followed her Olympic 200m butterfly gold with her first world title. She won by .13 over German Franziska Hentke, with Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu earning bronze.

Americans Simone Manuel and Mallory Comerford qualified second- and third-fastest into Friday’s 100m freestyle final. Swede Sarah Sjöström, who shattered the world record leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, leads the eight-woman final.

Lilly King and Yulia Efimova set up another breaststroke showdown, this time in the 200m distance. Efimova will be heavily favored, while King was the last qualifier into Friday’s final in a tougher distance for the 100m gold medalist and world-record holder.

Murphy was the No. 2 qualifier into Friday’s 200m back final, behind China’s Xu Jiayu, who beat Murphy in the 100m back earlier this week.

Americans Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink qualified for Friday’s 200m breast final, but the favorites are Olympic bronze medalist Anton Chupkov of Russia and world-record holder Ippei Watanabe of Japan.

Etiene Medeiros became the first Brazilian woman to win an Olympic or world swim title in the pool in the 50m backstroke. She prevailed by .01 over China’s Fu Yuanhui in the non-Olympic event.

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results

Men’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Caeleb Dressel (USA) — 47.17
Silver: Nathan Adrian (USA) — 47.87
Bronze: Mehdy Metella (FRA) — 47.89
4. Cameron McEvoy (AUS) — 47.91
5. Duncan Scott (GBR) — 48.11
5. Marcelo Chierighini (BRA) — 48.11
7. Jack Cartwright (AUS) — 48.24
8. Sergii Shevtsov (UKR) — 48.26

Men’s 200m Individual Medley Results
Gold: Chase Kalisz (USA) — 1:55.56
Silver: Kosuke Hagino (JPN) — 1:56.01
Bronze: Wang Shun (CHN) — 1:56.28
4. Max Litchfield (GBR) — 1:56.86
5. Daiya Seto (JPN) — 1:56.97
6. Qin Haiyang (CHN) — 1:57.06
7. Philip Heintz (GER) — 1:57.43
8. Jeremy Desplanches (SUI) — 1:57.50

Katie Ledecky bounces back, anchors U.S. relay to gold (video)

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Katie Ledecky rebounded from her first major defeat with a more typical result Thursday, gold while anchoring the U.S. 4x200m freestyle relay.

Leah SmithMallory ComerfordMelanie Margalis and Ledecky combined to win the world title in Budapest by 1.57 seconds over China. Australia earned bronze.

Ledecky dove in with a .13 lead over China and fell behind by .13 after 50 meters but opened up a body-length lead going into the last 50 meters.

Ledecky bagged her 13th career world gold (extending her female record) and fourth of this week. Her bid to match Missy Franklin‘s female record of six golds at a single worlds ended with a shocking silver in the individual 200m freestyle on Wednesday.

“I really just got rid of the negative energy,” Ledecky said on NBCSN. “I knew I had a big race for Team USA tonight. That made it easy to get focused.”

Ledecky had the fastest split time of the 32 swimmers by 1.44 seconds. She outsplit Australian Emma McKeon by 2.24 seconds after McKeon tied Ledecky for silver in the 200m free. Ledecky was .28 slower than her split in Rio, which is strong. In her other events this week, Ledecky was between one and two seconds slower than in Rio.

“I wanted to put up a better swim than last night, I don’t know if it was from frustration or just swimming for my team,” Ledecky told media in Budapest. “Knowing that I had this swim today, there’s no better event or swim to come off of last night than this one. It just felt really good warming up. It just felt a lot better than yesterday and just knew that I could lay it all out there.”

Ledecky has one event left at worlds, the 800m freestyle, with preliminary heats Friday and the final Saturday. The 800m free is Ledecky’s signature event, in which she owns the 13 fastest times in history.

Ledecky won her first Olympic title in the 800m free as a 15-year-old in London and went on to world titles in 2013 and 2015 and repeat gold in Rio last year.

Women’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay Results
Gold: U.S. — 7:43.39

Silver: China — 7:44.96
Bronze: Australia — 7:48.51
4. Russia — 7:48.59
5. Japan — 7:50.43
6. Hungary — 7:51.33
7. Netherlands — 7:54.29
8. Canada — 7:55.57

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview | Schedule/Results