US Figure Skating Championships

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

Max Parrot, Julia Marino win Big Air at Fenway Park snowboarding

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Canadian Olympic snowboarder Max Parrot and American Julia Marino swept the first Big Air at Fenway Park events on Thursday night.

Parrot, who finished fifth in the Sochi Olympic slopestyle competition, had the highest-scoring run of all competitors in gusty conditions at the home of the Boston Red Sox.

He tallied a 96.25 in his second of three runs. The combined score of his first two runs — 183.5 — held up so that his last run was a victory lap.

Parrot gained attention in Sochi for being one of two Canadian snowboarders to call out Shaun White for pulling out before the slopestyle competition.

White didn’t compete Thursday. Olympic slopestyle champions Sage Kotsenburg (training crash) and Jamie Anderson (eliminated in qualifying) did compete, but not in the finals.

Big air, which debuts at the Olympics at Pyeongchang 2018, is most like slopestyle of the current Olympic snowboard disciplines. The key difference is that big air runs include one jump, while slopestyle is a course of several jumps and rails.

Earlier, American Julia Marino was the surprise women’s winner at Fenway, tallying a two-run total of 169.25. Marino, 18, was a forerunner who got into the field when U.S. Olympian Ty Walker withdrew.

Riders competed Thursday with wind gusts up to 25 miles per hour, NBC Sports’ Tina Dixon said. Their bibs flapped uncontrollably at the top of the 140-foot-high jump, nearly four times the height of the adjacent Green Monster.

“The wind definitely created a nervous factor for me, and I’m sure all the other riders, too,” Marino, a Connecticut native, said on NBCSN. “It was crazy windy up there. But the fact is the jump itself wasn’t as winded down below. … I’ve been to Boston so many times, and I’ve walked past this ballpark a ton. To be snowboarding here, it’s insane.”

Big Air at Fenway concludes Friday with ski big air, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra at 9 p.m. ET.

MORE: Shaun White explains ‘shock’ of missing X Games

Sage Kotsenburg cracks helmet in Fenway Big Air crash

Sage Kotsenburg
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Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion Sage Kotsenburg crashed in training and suffered a concussion before the finals of the Big Air at Fenway Park in Boston on Thursday evening, according to his Twitter.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association said Kotsenburg hit his head in the crash but couldn’t confirm a concussion diagnosis.

Kotsenburg, 22, was to be the headliner of the finals after fellow Olympic slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson was eliminated in earlier qualifying.

Big Air at Fenway was to be Kotsenburg’s final competition of the season, according to Sports Illustrated. He finished 10th in snowboard slopestyle at the Winter X Games two weeks ago.

Kotsenburg has said he would like to compete in slopestyle and big air at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, where big air will make its Winter Games debut.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra will have coverage of the final day of Big Air at Fenway on Friday for the ski slopestyle finals at 9 p.m. ET.

MORE: Shaun White discusses ‘shock’ of missing X Games