Polina Edmunds put this season’s struggles behind her to claim the biggest victory of her young career, rising from fourth place after the short program to capture the Four Continents Championships in Seoul on Sunday.
Former U.S. champion Gracie Gold went in the opposite direction, going from second in the short program to fourth place overall in a tune-up competition before the World Championships in March.
Edmunds, who was 3.81 behind Japanese short program leader Satoko Miyahara on Friday, landed seven triple jumps in her free skate to score 122.99 points. Nobody else scored better than 116.75. She totaled 184.02 to top Miyahara by 2.43. Japan’s Rika Hongo took bronze ahead of the American Gold.
Edmunds said she was not surprised by the result.
“I knew if I relaxed and skated like I knew I could, it was possible,” the 16-year-old said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I expected myself to skate well and I did. I’m happy I was awarded the gold medal for it.”
Edmunds endured a rocky season, adapting to pressure and puberty, and missed the podium in her two Grand Prix series events. She finished fourth at the U.S. Championships, making her second straight World Championships team due to third-place Karen Chen being too young for Worlds.
“I had trouble earlier in the season with nerves and handling the different coordination,” Edmunds said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I think now I’m back to a straight level for where I am in my body. Now it’s mental for me to do clean programs.”
Edmunds was a surprise last season, when she came from no expectations to become the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports at the Sochi Olympics. She finished ninth at Sochi and eighth at Worlds.
“I want to place higher than eighth,” at Worlds in Shanghai in March, Edmunds said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “But really I want two clean programs. I do have high technical difficulty so I’m hoping that I can skate well and that the judges see the difficulty and the artistry in my skating. Honestly, my goal all the way through the season was to be on the podium. That didn’t happen, but I hope it will at Worlds.”
To make the podium, Edmunds, Gold and U.S. champion Ashley Wagner must break up a talented trio of Russians looking to become the first nation to sweep a Worlds or Olympic women’s podium since 1991. That year, it was Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
“I don’t think that the Russians are stronger than any one of us,” Edmunds said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “We all have the same elements, everyone has different skating styles. If everyone skates clean, that’s when you can nitpick whose style you like more. Otherwise, it’s going to come down to elements and how we perform. But going into Worlds, I’m optimistic that it’s not going to be ‘the Russians are coming.'”
Gold singled at least one jump in both of her programs in Seoul. She was the top U.S. finisher at the Sochi Olympics and last year’s World Championships. Now, she’s been beaten by Wagner and Edmunds in back-to-back competitions since taking a December break to recover from a small stress fracture in her foot.
“It was a difficult competition for me,” she said of Four Continents, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I skated poorly in both segments of competition. I’m sorry about that.”