Gracie Gold tops World Championships short program

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Gracie Gold skated the best short program of her international career at an opportune time and is in position to end a nine-year U.S. women’s medal drought at the World Championships.

Gold leads after scoring an American record 76.43 points in Boston on Thursday, going into the free skate Saturday (9 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“We’re only halfway through, but I can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel, that maybe the drought is ending, which would be amazing,” said Gold, the two-time U.S. champion who was fourth at the 2014 Olympics and 2015 Worlds.

She was 2.45 better than Russian runner-up Anna Pogorilaya, nailing all of her jumps at TD Garden, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

After finishing, Gold covered her hands on top of her blond hair at center ice while receiving a standing ovation as the penultimate skater.

“It was a really magical moment,” said the 20-year-old Gold, who was born in nearby Newton, Mass., raised in Illinois and resides in California. “Everything fell into place. … It felt like there was something in the arena.”

Russian pre-Worlds favorite Yevgenia Medvedeva is third, 2.7 points behind after not landing all of her jumps crisply.

“I certainly could show more potential and hoping to do that in the free skate,” Medvedeva, the 2015 World junior champion skating in her first senior Worlds, said through a translator. ‘When I stepped out and saw the full stands and the spectators so close to the ice, I realized that this is a big stage.”

Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner is in fourth after a personal-best short program, after which she tripped and fell on her behind on the ice.

It’s also Wagner’s best placement after an Olympics or Worlds short program in her seventh appearance, one year after she battled back from 11th place in the Worlds short to finish fifth.

“I’m so excited to finally get over that hump of the short program at Worlds,” Wagner said. “My biggest difficulty when I skate a clean short is separating it going into the long. … Now it’s up to me to do something similar to today.”

Gold is the first U.S. woman to lead a World Championships short program since Mirai Nagasu in 2010. Nagasu also skated Thursday, in her first Worlds since 2010, placing 10th (video here).

The last time a U.S. woman earned a World Championships medal was 2006, when Kimmie Meissner took gold and Sasha Cohen bronze. The nine-year U.S. women’s medal drought is their longest in the Winter Olympic era.

“Regardless of the drought or how many years it’s been, it would mean a lot just to be on the podium in your home country,” Gold said. “I want to do it for myself, for my support system, for U.S. Figure Skating, for Boston.”

Japanese medal hopes Satoko Miyahara and three-time World champion Mao Asada sit sixth and ninth, respectively.

The World Championships continue with the free dance on Thursday at 8 ET (NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

MORE: Olympic men’s medalists trade barbs over practice near-collision

Women’s Short Program 
1. Gracie Gold (USA) — 76.43
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 73.98
3. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 73.76
4. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 73.16
10. Mirai Nagasu (USA) — 65.74

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”