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

Eliud Kipchoge wins Berlin Marathon; no world record

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Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge won the Berlin Marathon but missed the world record by 35 seconds, slowed by rain and humidity.

The Kenyan clocked 2:03:32, just missing the three-year-old record of 2:02:57. Countryman Dennis Kimetto set that mark at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.

Kipchoge, who has won nine of his 10 career marathons, said Sunday marked the toughest conditions under which he has run 26.2 miles.

“My mind was to run at least a world record,” the 32-year-old said. “Next time. Tomorrow is a [new] day. … I still have a world record in my legs.”

The two other men chasing the record — Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang — dropped out after 18 miles.

Instead, the runner-up was surprise Ethiopian Guye Adola, who ran the fastest debut marathon ever on a record-eligible course in an unofficial 2:03:46.

Adola stuck with Kipchoge until the last mile as both men trailed off Kimetto’s world-record pace.

Kenyan Gladys Cherono won the women’s race by 18 seconds in 2:00:23. It’s her second Berlin win in three years.

Many expected to see a men’s world record Sunday. Kipchoge, Bekele and Kipsang had all run within 16 seconds of the mark in the last two years but had never raced together in the German capital.

Berlin is the world’s fastest marathon. The men’s world record has been lowered six times since 2003, each time in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.

Kipchoge was the pre-race favorite.

On May 6, he ran 2:00:25 in Nike’s staged sub-two-hour marathon attempt on an Italian Formula One track. It was contested under special conditions that made it ineligible for record purposes with pacers entering mid-race.

Kipchoge won Berlin in 2015 in 2:04:00 despite insoles flopping out the back of his shoes the last half of the race.

Bekele and Kipsang teased the world record in a memorable Berlin duel last year, with Bekele winning six seconds shy of it.

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MORE: Top Americans set for major marathon next month

Yuzuru Hanyu falters as Javier Fernández wins opener

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Even Yuzuru Hanyu can struggle in September.

The Olympic and world champion singled his first jump, doubled a few more and fell in the free skate of his opening event of the Olympic season on Saturday. Video is here.

He squandered an 11.52-point lead over two-time world champion Javier Fernández from Friday’s short program at the Autumn Classic in Montreal.

Hanyu ended up 10.83 points behind Fernández overall, even though the Spaniard also fell in his free skate.

Full scores are here.

It’s a familiar feeling for Hanyu, who saw Fernández pass him in the free skate at the 2015 and 2016 Worlds.

The Japanese megastar also been known to have clunker programs at fall events in past seasons. In every one of his senior seasons, Hanyu has been beaten in one of his first two competitions.

Hanyu came to Montreal with a sore knee, which reportedly led him to take the quadruple loop out of his repertoire for one weekend.

Still, Hanyu was marvelous in the short program. His score was the second-highest under the 13-year-old judging system.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November. The Autumn Classic is a lower-level event.

Hanyu, 22, next skates at the Rostelecom Cup in four weeks. He will face 18-year-old U.S. champion Nathan Chen, who beat Hanyu at the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February.

The figure skating season continues next weekend with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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