Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva landed a triple Axel and earned one of the highest short program scores ever, taking a commanding lead at the World Championships in Shanghai on Thursday.
The three Americans struggled so mightily that not only is a hoped-for first U.S. women’s medal since 2006 now unlikely, but they also must make up ground in Saturday’s free skate to qualify three women’s spots for the 2016 World Championships in Boston.
Polina Edmunds is seventh, Gracie Gold is eighth and Ashley Wagner is 11th.
Tuktamysheva, the only active elite women’s skater performing the triple Axel, jubilantly shook her right fist and spun around after her clean skate. A few minutes later, she smiled, nodded in approval and shook her coach’s hand when her point total came up — 77.62.
“When I landed the triple Axel, I got goosebumps and I thought, ‘Is this a dream or did I really just do the triple Axel at the World Championships?'” Tuktamysheva said, according to The Associated Press.
Only three-time World champion Mao Asada and 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim have scored higher under the current system.
Tuktamysheva leads countrywoman Yelena Radionova by a whopping 8.11 going into the free skate (full results here). She has won seven international events this season, an incredible rebound after finishing 10th at the previous season’s Russian Championships, not coming close to making the Sochi Olympic team.
Tuktamysheva said she felt there was a 50 percent chance she would fall on the triple Axel and does not plan another one in the free skate, according to reports from Shanghai.
“It was a risk to do the triple Axel in the short program, but figure skating has to evolve,” she said, according to the AP. “The men are doing three quads in their programs and the girls also have to develop.”
Radionova, a two-time World junior champion who beat Tuktamysheva at Skate America in October and the Russian Championships in December, said she skated Thursday with a 100-degree fever, according to Russian reports.
Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi, placed seventh Thursday with 61.71 points. Judges deducted from her triple flip for not having a clear edge. In February, Edmunds won the Four Continents Championships, beating two Japanese women who on Thursday placed third and fifth in the short program.
Edmunds, 16, is in position to better her finish from the Olympics (ninth) and 2014 Worlds (eighth).
“I was able to skate well,” she said, according to U.S. Figure Skating.”Most of all, I want to skate two clean programs here and I’m halfway there today.”
Gold, fourth at the Sochi Olympics and fifth at the 2014 World Championships, stepped out of the opening triple Lutz of a planned jumping combination and placed eighth with 60.73 points.
It continued a tough season that included a stress fracture in her left foot in the fall, ceding her U.S. title in January and several erred performances throughout.
“I’ve had a tough year, the hardest I’ve had in my skating career,” Gold said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I’m only 19, so it hasn’t been that long, but we’ll have to start fresh next year.”
Wagner scored 57.81 for 11th place. Wagner, who regained her U.S. championship in January and entered with high medal hopes, fell on the second jump of her opening combination and under-rotated a triple flip.
“Today was a horrible day, there’s no other way to say it,” Wagner said, according to the AP. “I think it was just that I was focusing on way too many things at once, and that was the recipe for disaster.”
The top two U.S. women’s placements after the free skate must combine to be 13 or better to ensure three spots at the 2016 World Championships in Boston. Right now, Edmunds and Gold’s combined placements are 15.
Women’s Short Program
1. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 77.62
2. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 69.51
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 67.02
4. Kanako Murakami (JPN) — 65.48
5. Rika Hongo (JPN) — 62.17
7. Polina Edmunds (USA) — 61.71
8. Gracie Gold (USA) — 60.73
11. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 57.81