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Golden Girl Rises up from Short Program Ashes

 by Karen Frank



(24 January 2016)  This was the Gracie Gold performance everyone – including Gold- had been waiting for.  Interpreting Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, Gold showed the fire that she’s always known been capable of, but rarely appears outside of practice. “I've skated that exact program at Toyota Center, in practice, I skated that program yesterday. I know every single step and the whole rhythm of the program.”

Easily reeling off seven triples, including a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, Gold wasn’t just capable, she was confident. Going beyond the technical, she became the Firebird, with angular shapes down to her talon-like hand positions. “I knew that I had trained so hard for this competition and couldn't let anything go,” Gold said. “I needed to be the best Firebird I could be.”

She needed to be. After a popping her Lutz in the short program, she entered the Free program almost eight points behind Polina Edmunds, one would have thought that Edmunds would need to falter before anyone could overtake her. She didn’t, landing six completely clean triples and an additional under-rotated triple loop, a feat that impressed bronze medalist Ashley Wagner.  “Major props to Polina for doing two clean programs,” Wagner said. “I think that goes to show how difficult a national championship is mentally for all of us.”

Though Edmunds, who won her second Silver Medal in three years, was technically solid with all level four elements, her program to Gone With the Wind, was skated a bit carefully. She didn’t appear to cover the ice as swiftly and easily as she had two days earlier in her first-place short program. In many other years though, her performance would have been enough to win. “I feel great,” Edmunds said. “I did a clean program and I'm really happy that I put everything out and did exactly what I wanted to do in my head.”

Last year’s National Champion, Wagner, missed her chance to repeat after popping her Lutz, though even had she landed the jump, she would not have finished any higher. One of her spins, and her step sequence were both called level three, the base value of the program was below that of Gold and Edmunds. Wagner is capable of more – one only has to look back to 2015 Nationals where she scored 148.98 (a point higher than Gold’s 2016 free skate score) with the Moulin Rouge program she is using again this season.

The historically up and down Mirai Nagasu redeemed herself from last year’s tenth place, with a six triple program to Selections from The Great Gatsby soundtrack. Often losing points for under-rotating her jumps, Nagasu didn’t this time. It’s a promising sign for the inconsistent Nagasu. Though she skated slower than the top three competitors, Nagasu perked up after she completed the final jump and moved into a “Charleston” style footwork passage that charmed the audience.

Rounding out the top six were Tyler Pierce and Bradie Tennell. After falling on her triple flip, Pierce skated a fierce program to Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns. Tennell, who performed to Maksim Mrvica’s Tango in Ebony, landed seven triples, but a few flawed landings and lower component marks kept her behind Pierce. Both ladies have been named to the Junior World team.

The Senior World team will consist of Gold, Edmunds and Wagner, who know they have a battle ahead with the jump happy Russian and Japanese teams. But it’s not, as Wagner pointed out, like the U.S. Ladies are incapable of matching their rivals’ technical prowess, but it’s been a matter of execution. “In years past, consistently we’ve faltered in one program or the other.  This year it’s going to be about going out there and nailing those triple-triple combinations and putting up the technical marks and performing the hell out of those programs.”

Gold added, “I think we have nothing to lose and we are all going to lay it out there. I think that we are all more than qualified."

She’s correct. For all the talk about the ability of the ladies on the International scene to land triple-triple combinations, it’s heartening to realize that top six ladies in St. Paul all landed a triple-triple in the long program.