Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner shatters records for third U.S. figure skating title

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Ashley Wagner felt terrified. She skated terrific.

Wagner shattered the U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s records for free skate and total scores, compiling 148.98 and 221.02, respectively, to win her third national title in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday night.

“I’m terrified,” Wagner told her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, before gliding out for her free skate with a five-point lead over defending U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who was yet to skate.

Wagner, 23, landed seven triple jumps in her program to break Gold’s records of 139.57 and 211.69 from last year. She became the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005 and the first woman since Kwan to win three national titles. Kwan won nine.

“This, of my three titles, is the one that tastes the sweetest,” Wagner, also the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, said on NBC. “I’ve had so many critics over the past couple of months. I’ve had so many people who said I’m too old for this, I am burnt out. But, you know what, I am so hungry to make a career for myself. I was able to turn all this negativity into something positive.”

Gold finished second with 205.54 points, which was 15.48 behind Wagner (full results here). She fell on a triple flip. Gold was the top U.S. woman at the Sochi Olympics (fourth) and 2014 World Championships (fifth).

“It was really hard to skate a long program after the roar of the crowd and the standing ovation,” said Gold, who skated right after Wagner. “It brought me back to Sochi, skating after Adelina Sotnikova, who won.

“We’ve been at each other’s throats raising the bar,” Gold said of her rivalry with Wagner. They’ve been one-two at two of the last three U.S. Championships.

Wagner and Gold will next head to the World Championships in Shanghai in March, looking to win the first U.S. women’s medal at a Worlds or Olympics since 2006. That’s the longest U.S. women’s drought in the Winter Olympic era.

Wagner has bounced back after finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and being controversially put on the three-woman Sochi Olympic team over third-place Mirai Nagasu.

“Last year’s nationals, that was horrifying,” Wagner said. “Then I had a so-so Olympics and Worlds. Then my Grand Prix season was solid but nothing all that remarkable. I felt like people were starting to write me off, and I wasn’t giving them any reason to believe I’m competitive.”

Then came the Grand Prix Final in December.

Wagner showed she can win a medal at Worlds when she improved from last place of six skaters in the short program at the Barcelona event to win bronze. The Grand Prix Final is the second biggest annual international competition behind Worlds.

“I am a force to be reckoned with,” said Wagner, who was seventh at the Sochi Olympics and Worlds last year and is looking for her first World Championships medal. “It’s time for people to start considering me someone who’s coming for the podium.”

Karen Chen, 15, finished third with 199.79 points in her senior national debut, landing six triple jumps in her fantastic free skate. Chen became the youngest U.S. women’s medalist since Nagasu won at age 14 in 2008.

Chen, however, is too young for the World Championships.

That could open the door for Olympian Polina Edmunds, 16, to make her second World Championships team since the U.S. will send three women to Shanghai. Edmunds fell on a triple Lutz in her free skate and dropped from third after the short program to finish fourth at 192.62.

Wagner mentioned one more thing, going back to her pre-skate conversation with her coach.

“I watched this awesome commercial before I skated, and throughout the commercial it was this coach giving a pregame speech, and one of the quotes within the commercial was, ‘Passion has a funny way of trumping logic,'” Wagner said, adding she has the quote on her mirror at home and repeated it to herself Saturday.

Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates held off siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani to win their first U.S. ice dance title. Chock and Bates were eighth at the Sochi Olympics behind gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are sitting out this season.

Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis will be medal threats at the World Championships against top couples from Canada and the reigning World champions, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy.

In pairs, Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim won their first U.S. title with the highest total score in U.S. Championships history. They completed the first quad twist by a U.S. pairs team in competition. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were second, likely locking up the second U.S. pairs berth at Worlds.

Neither team is likely to end a 12-year U.S. pairs medal drought at the World Championships. They were both outside the top six international pairs teams during the Grand Prix season. Russia, Canada and China dominate the event.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships conclude with the men’s free skate Sunday (4 p.m. ET on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Jason Brown tops men’s short program; quad debate stoked

Women’s final results
1. Ashley Wagner — 221.02
2. Gracie Gold — 205.54
3. Karen Chen — 199.79
4. Polina Edmunds — 192.62
5. Samantha Cesario — 182.82

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished one-two at each of the last three U.S. Championships.

Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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