Jan 8, 2014, 6:30 AM EDT
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.”
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.
— Christina Gao (@christina_gao) January 4, 2014
Sep 21, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT
Ledecky broke five world records in two months this year.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT
“I would be 36 for Rio. That’s probably just getting on a bit too much.”
Sep 19, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Spearmon lost a 2008 Olympic medal due to disqualification and finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic 200m.
Sep 19, 2014, 10:21 AM EDT
Komova won Olympic all-around silver behind Gabby Douglas.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:49 AM EDT
There was concern Olympic host nation wouldn’t be able to qualify in hockey.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:02 AM EDT
Olympic medalist skater could be called in for later hearing.
Sep 18, 2014, 4:50 PM EDT
Three-time Olympian rides into retirement by entering history books.
Sep 18, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT
Work expected to finish in the first half of 2016.
Sep 18, 2014, 1:39 PM EDT
NBC Olympics analyst hands out athlete of the year honors and more.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Russian Olympic champion gave birth to daughter in June.
Sep 18, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Can U.S. win second straight team title despite injuries, absences?
Sep 17, 2014, 3:38 PM EDT
Canadian from memorable 2002 Olympic pairs competition to coach NHL players.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:13 PM EDT
Olympic halfpipe champion is focused on two competitions this season.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT
Curling is the first Winter Olympic sport to have a sculpture in the Olympic Museum park.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:38 AM EDT
World record holder, now 40, could enter two more major marathons.
Sep 17, 2014, 10:04 AM EDT
Two-time Olympic champion runs five or six times per week.
Sep 17, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Two-time Olympic halfpipe champion “more poised” for slopestyle success in 2018.
Sep 17, 2014, 8:41 AM EDT
Jones posted she had “flashbacks of the three Olympics and that people constantly tease me about.”
Sep 16, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
More than 7.5 million tickets will be available for the Games.
Sep 16, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
German star suffered torn ACL.
- Katie Ledecky wins USA Swimming Athlete of the Year; who are World Swimmers of the Year? 0
- Wallace Spearmon fails drug test, banned 3 months 0
- Ato Boldon’s track and field season awards 1
- Analyzing the U.S. gymnastics women’s World Championships team 0
- Shaun White ‘more motivated’ to compete than before Sochi 0
- Lolo Jones eliminated from ‘Dancing with the Stars’ 6
- Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps hope to meet for first time before Olympic farewell 0
- Emotional Bode Miller medals in race that mattered most (61)
- Russian women kissing after relay victory at World Championships causes stir (57)
- IOC drops wrestling from 2020 Olympics (47)
- South Korea filing official complaint over Yuna Kim’s Olympic silver (39)
- Zola Budd, 47, dominates college runners in 5K (33)