Gracie Gold struggles to sixth-place finish at nationals

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KANSAS CITY — The worst season of Gracie Gold‘s career appears to be over. Are changes ahead? Gold can’t say for sure.

Gold finished sixth at the U.S. Championships on Saturday, her first time outside the top two in five nationals appearances. She is likely to be left off the world championships team for the first time when it is announced Sunday.

Gold, who was fifth after the short program Thursday, left revolutions out of multiple jumps in her free skate, though she did not fall in either program.

“Obviously, I had a very terrible long program,” Gold, fairly composed, said minutes afterward. “It’s just something about this year. I’ve been in a funk. … Even when my switch is on, so to speak, I’m just not having the confidence and the clarity.”

NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir both called it disastrous. What should she do to regroup?

“You burn down the house, and you build a new one,” Weir said on the NBC broadcast.

The defending U.S. champion Gold has struggled since dropping from first after the 2016 World Championships short program to finish fourth. She was also fourth at the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Worlds.

She made a desperate move to seek out her old coach, Alex Ouriashev, after Christmas to work on her jumps, but it wasn’t enough. She wouldn’t say if she’ll change training locations before the Olympic season.

“I don’t have any plans of that nature yet,” Gold said. “You guys will be the first to know.”

Gold said after her short program that she deserved a place on the worlds team, which is chosen based not just on nationals but also results since the start of 2016. Gold backed off that after her free skate.

“I don’t really want to say too much, just because I know that the committee reads what we all say,” Gold said. “I just know that, given the opportunity, I wouldn’t let them down, and I think that I would be a very wise pick for the world team.

“Even though today’s skating is subpar, there’s not a doubt in my mind that this has been a rough season, but that I’m still pretty much one of the best skaters in the United States and in the world. Sometimes we just have bad times.”

Gold nearly sat out the fall Grand Prix season after detaching from the sport in the summer. She detailed mental and physical struggles — “a worlds depression” — as she posted her worst international results in four years the last three months.

“She’s gone through deep, deep, deep depression, and everybody’s tried to help her with it,” her coach, Frank Carroll, said after Saturday’s skate.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate (4 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Check out NBCsports.com/USFIGS for all-access coverage all weekend.

VIDEO: Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week 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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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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