U.S. champion Gracie Gold is in position to qualify for her first Grand Prix Final, leading the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, after the short program Friday.
Gold, who was fourth at the Olympics and fifth at March’s World Championships, posted her highest short program score this season, 68.16 points. She led Russian Alena Leonova by .05.
A win at NHK Trophy would put Gold into the six-woman Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in two weeks. The Grand Prix Final, which includes the top skaters from the six-event Grand Prix series, is the top annual international competition outside the World Championships.
If the NHK standings hold through the free skate Saturday, Gold and countrywoman Ashley Wagner would join four Russian women in the Grand Prix Final.
“I think there are positives and negatives in qualifying for the GP Final,” Gold said, according to The Associated Press. “When you consider the U.S. Nationals are in January, it kind of interrupts your schedule for that, but of course it means you have done very well.”
Olympic and World men’s champion Yuzuru Hanyu is in fifth place behind leader and countryman Takahito Mura and in jeopardy of missing the Grand Prix Final. Hanyu, 19, fell on his opening quadruple jump and put his hands down on a later jump, not getting credit for a combination.
Hanyu clearly wasn’t near his best, performing three weeks after a warm-up collision with another skater at Cup of China.
“I feel like I’ve recovered enough and just tried to skate as normal,” Hanyu said, according to the AP. “Obviously this is disappointing. But the free skate is one I’m confident with and I will do my best tomorrow.”
If the NHK standings hold through the free skate, Hanyu would be in a three-way tie with Americans Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown for the last Grand Prix Final spot. The tiebreaker would be the skaters’ highest combined scores in their two Grand Prix series events.
If Hanyu moves into the top three after the free skate, he will make the Grand Prix Final regardless of what other skaters do in Osaka.
Abbott put himself in contention with a clean short program Friday, totaling 81.51, 4.77 behind Mura. Abbott, a four-time U.S. champion, hopes to make his first Grand Prix Final in three years.
NHK Trophy Short Program
1. Gracie Gold (USA) — 68.16
2. Alena Leonova (RUS) — 68.11
3. Kanako Murakami (JPN) — 64.38
6. Christina Gao (USA) — 54.86
11. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 48.96
1. Takahito Mura (JPN) — 86.28
2. Jeremy Abbott (USA) — 81.51
3. Daisuke Murakami (JPN) — 79.68
5. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 78.01
10. Ross Miner (USA) — 63.36
11. Josh Farris (USA) — 58.35
U.S. figure skaters officially Olympic medalists, 50 years later