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).

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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