An Olympian leads after the U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s short program, but not the one most expected.
Polina Edmunds, the youngest competitor on the entire 2014 U.S. Olympic team, skated clean and tallied 70.19 points in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday night.
Neither Gracie Gold nor Ashley Wagner could match their Sochi teammate. Gold, the 2014 U.S. champion, singled her opening jump and scored 62.50 for second place. Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion, fell on her opening jump combination and posted 62.41 for fourth.
“I want it so much that sometimes I just strangle myself,” Gold told media in St. Paul (more in an NBC interview). “One mistake, that’s it. If I want to even be relevant, I have to hit the rest, which I did.
“The long program has always been better for me. I’ve always felt more comfortable, and [coach] Frank [Carroll] and I have a mission.”
Edmunds takes a whopping 7.69-point lead into the free skate Saturday (8-11 p.m. ET on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra), the largest short-program lead by a U.S. woman in Nationals history under the 11-year-old scoring system.
“I’ve never had the chance to be in this position before,” Edmunds said (more in an NBC interview). “I’m glad that what I put out today was my best and that I was rewarded for it.”
Edmunds, 17, finished a surprising second at the 2014 U.S. Championships to earn her place in Sochi.
She placed ninth at the Olympics and then fell to fourth at the 2015 U.S. Championships but made the three-woman 2015 World Championships team as the third-place finisher at last year’s Nationals, Karen Chen, was too young for Worlds.
Edmunds was eighth at a second straight Worlds last March and missed the podium in both of her fall international events, coming into Nationals without the fanfare of Gold and Wagner.
“There’s always pre-competition hype and buzz, and I don’t really pay attention to it,” Edmunds said. “Every competition, regardless who’s in the audience, if it’s two people or 1,000, it doesn’t change for me. The pressure’s the same, and I feel like I’m capable of handling it.”
Courtney Hicks and Chen, two podium contenders coming in, fell twice each Thursday and sit 11th and 12th, respectively.
The U.S. champion earns an automatic spot at the World Championships in Boston in two months. She’ll be joined by two more women selected by a committee.
Wagner is in a precarious position, but a familiar one. She finished fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and was put on the Olympic team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu (who was fifth Thursday).
In St. Paul, Wagner is .04 behind Tyler Pierce, a 17-year-old without the top-level senior international experience that also goes into a committee’s decision on World Championships team members.
“I am exactly where I need to be,” Wagner told NBC Sports’ Andrea Joyce. “This is a work in progress.”
Earlier, Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea topped the pairs short program, relegating defending champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim to second place.
The U.S. Championships continue with the short dance and men’s short program on Friday (full broadcast schedule here).