Maintaining a solid five-point lead heading into Saturday’s free skate, Ashley Wagner looks to reclaim the U.S. national title from Gracie Gold in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Wagner, who won in 2012 and 2013, executed a triple Lutz-triple and achieved an overall score of 72.04 after Thursday’s short programs, pulling ahead of Gold at 67.02.
Just behind Gold is 16-year-old Polina Edmunds at 66.04, followed by Mirai Nagasu at 65.28, and Courtney Hicks at 65.01.
Such a diverse and technical display from Wagner likely had something to do with her seventh-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where some skaters were credited for making few if any mistakes but hurt by not taking enough risks.
Wagner, Gold and Edmunds, along with the rest of the U.S.’s field are also still getting used to the relatively new scoring system that favors bigger, bolder moves. It will certainly help in international competition, where the Russians, South Koreans and Japanese have overtaken the Americans on the global stage of late.
"Other countries kind of saw the system, took it, ran with it," Wagner said to USA Today. "It is a very technical system so these kids are going out there doing triple-triples, triple axels, quads. … Russian figure skating as a whole is very technical (while) the United States has always been very focused on creating well-rounded, artistic skaters. I think that now slowly we are getting a generation that has come up in the new system. We are getting there. We need to have athletes who deliver under pressure. That is our biggest challenge."
Gold did face an uphill battle entering the competition. She was forced to pull out of last month’s Grand Prix with a stress fracture in her foot.
Edmunds is the youngest on this year’s squad and could make her second straight national team as long as she finishes in the top three after the free skate.
Start Time: Saturday, 8 P.M. to 11 P.M. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Live Online Stream: A live stream is available at NBC Live Extra here
Prediction: Gold comes from behind and upsets Wagner