Skip to content

Preview: Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold headline Ladies’ field at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Jan 8, 2014, 6:30 AM EDT

Ashley Wagner Getty Images

Four years after they represented the U.S. at the Vancouver Games, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu return to the U.S. Championships this week in Boston for another shot at the Olympics, but they aren’t the headliners in the chase for the team’s three spots in Sochi.

Instead, such distinction belongs to reigning and two-time national champion Ashley Wagner, who just missed out on the Vancouver team by placing third in 2010, and teenager Gracie Gold, who vaulted to a second-place finish at Nationals a year ago in her senior debut.

The ladies skate Thursday and Saturday nights at TD Garden with the Olympic selections being announced Sunday at a noon press conference.

“I’ve been training really hard going into Nationals, which is obviously such an important event this year,” said Wagner, who at age 22 is the favorite for a third straight U.S. title. “I want to do everything that I can do make sure I’m ready.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships Previews: Men | Women | Ice Dance | Pairs | Schedule

Gold will look to do the same after her first season on the senior Grand Prix circuit. A year ago at Nationals she was ninth after the short program – beset by nerves – before she won the free skate, launching her to a silver-medal finish.

“The senior ladies – this is a big event,” Gold told reporters last week on a conference call. “I just need to trust my training in order to have a steadier Nationals this year, but with the same great outcome.”

Any color of medal for the girl called Gold would put Gracie in a strong position to be named to one of the three spots on the U.S. team this year after she won bronze at Skate Canada and placed fourth at the Grand Prix stop in Tokyo.

But nothing is certain for Wagner or Gold as a flurry of talented skater nip at their boots for the chance to head to Russia.

Agnes Zawadzki is one of them, the 19-year-old Chicago native having placed third at the last two U.S. Championships.

Zawadzki had struggles through the Grand Prix season, however, placing sixth and seventh at two events after changing back to her old coach, Tom Zakrajsek, in October, who also works with reigning U.S. men’s champion Max Aaron.

“I felt like that definitely was not what I wanted to present for the season, especially with the Olympics approaching,” Zawadzki said in an interview with NBCOlympics.com. “But I sat I’ve felt more consistent and confident with Tom and he’s kicking my butt. We’re working so hard.”

Boston-based Christina Gao also had difficulty at her Grand Prix assignments, placing fourth at Skate Canada and eighth in Paris. She’s taken the year off from Harvard to focus on her Olympic quest, but will need to snap a streak of four straight fifth-place finishes at Nationals in order to have a chance to make the team.

“[The Boston skaters] have such great programs this year that when we’re training together it’s such a good energy prior to the Olympics,” Gao said. “I can only imagine what it will feel like inside TD Garden. I’m really excited because I have a ton of friends at Harvard who I’ve told need to come and get tickets so they can come and watch.”

But there are other skaters for fans – and competitors – to watch, as well. Nagasu is perhaps the most notable, having been fourth at the 2010 Olympics and recently placing third at the Cup of Russia in November, the season’s final Grand Prix stop. Like Gao, she’ll need to up a string of two-straight seventh-place finishes to earn a shot at Sochi.

Injuries have derailed Flatt’s efforts, the 2010 national champion now making a comeback of sorts at 21 years old. The Stanford junior qualified via regional and sectional events and – always known as a steady skater – will look to deliver two reliable programs in Boston.

Courtney Hicks, fourth at Nationals a year ago, is coming off a solid season in which she won two Senior B events, just a step below the Grand Prix level. The 18-year-old beat Gold at the season-opening U.S. Figure Skating Classic in September in Salt Lake City and was fifth at Skate Canada.

Samantha Cesario, 20, aims to build off of two top-five finishes on the Grand Prix circuit from the year while Polina Edmunds, the reigning U.S. junior champion, won two junior Grand Prix gold medals this season and looks to make a splash at the age of 15.

Two-time U.S. champion Alissa Czisny ended her Olympic bid earlier this season with an ongoing injury, while two-time U.S. medalist Caroline Zhang struggled to a 10th-place finish at Skate America in October.

Wagner, who has placed fourth (2012) and fifth (2013) at the last two World Championships, says that the third-place finish that left her off the team in 2010 at Nationals has certainly motivated her.

“2010 absolutely still drives me,” she told reporters last week. “I owe it to myself for everything that I’ve given up – the sacrifices, the struggles – to make it onto this Olympic team and to do everything that I possibly can to make it onto the podium.”

NBC will air live coverage of the Ladies’ free skate Saturday night from 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern, as well as host a livestream of the event on NBCOlympics.com.

Latest Posts
  1. Alpine skiing men’s World Cup preview

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT

    Bode Miller, Ted Ligety Getty Images

    Austrian eyes history, while Ted Ligety, Bode Miller look to fill resume holes.

  2. Elana Meyers Taylor to drive 4-man bobsled with husband as push athlete

    Oct 24, 2014, 8:42 AM EDT

    Elana Meyers Taylor AP

    New rule allows women to compete in four-man bobsled this year.

  3. Shani Davis ‘not completely healed’ from Sochi, still eyes record

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:11 PM EDT

    Shani Davis Getty Images

    Sochi disappointment gave Davis a deeper appreciation for past success going into post-Olympic season.

  4. Allyson Felix’s patience pays off in 2014, ready to explore again in 2015

    Oct 23, 2014, 3:14 PM EDT

    Allyson Felix Getty Images

    Felix came back from torn hamstring to post the fastest 200m time since the London Olympics.

  5. Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski preview Skate America

    Oct 23, 2014, 12:58 PM EDT

    Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski Getty Images

    Several U.S. Olympians dot the field in Grand Prix series opener.

  6. Oscar Pistorius’ agent seeks prison meeting to discuss running future

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:59 AM EDT

    Oscar Pistorius Getty Images

    Pistorius is banned from competing during his sentence, even if not in jail, by Paralympic and South African Olympic Committees.

  7. Alpine skiing women’s World Cup preview

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:52 AM EDT

    Mikaela Shiffrin Getty Images

    Expect to see more of Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn than last year, but neither appears a threat to the world’s best overall skier.

  8. Serbia protests Kosovo receiving IOC provisional recognition

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:49 AM EDT

    Serbia flag Getty Images

    Kosovo, which gained independence from Serbia in 2008, could field an Olympic delegation for the first time in 2016.

  9. More Rulon Gardner items to be auctioned

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT

    Rulon Gardner AP

    Gardner’s Olympic medals were sold last year.

  10. Joss Christensen skis remains of Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympics sites (video)

    Oct 22, 2014, 5:06 PM EDT

    Joss Christensen

    Olympic ski slopestyle champion also needed rabies shots after dog bite.

  11. IOC provisionally recognizes Kosovo

    Oct 22, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE

    Kosovo has never competed at the Olympics as an independent nation.

  12. 2015 Tour de France route unveiled; favorites weigh in

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT

    Tour de France

    Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador have mixed opinions.

  13. Russian Olympic bobsled champ Aleksander Zubkov retires

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT

    Alexander Zubkov Getty Images

    Zubkov, 40, had already said he wouldn’t compete this season.

  14. Jeneba Tarmoh mulls representing Sierra Leone at Rio 2016 Olympics

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT

    Jeneba Tarmoh Getty Images

    Tarmoh was part of the infamous tie at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

  15. IOC to discuss recognizing Kosovo this week

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:54 AM EDT

    Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE

    Kosovo has yet to field a delegation at the Olympics.

  16. Watch trailers for ‘Touch the Wall’ about Missy Franklin

    Oct 21, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT

    Missy Franklin

    Film documenting Missy Franklin’s lead-up to London debuts next month.

  17. Miracle on Ice fantasy camp set for Lake Placid

    Oct 21, 2014, 11:10 AM EDT

    Miracle on Ice camp

    Eight members of 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team will conduct spring event.

  18. Daron Rahlves, four-time Olympian, in lightsuit skiing video

    Oct 21, 2014, 10:44 AM EDT

    Daron Rahlves

    Red Bull video shows skiers in LED lights at night in Alaska.