Gold becomes No. 1, but the rest wasn't by the numbers

Despite 'horrible' performance, Wagner makes Olympic team as Nagasu bumped

Polina Edmunds, Gracie Gold, Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner during Saturday's awards ceremony at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.  (Brian Snyder / Reuters)

Polina Edmunds, Gracie Gold, Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner (l. to r.) during Saturday's awards ceremony at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (Brian Snyder / Reuters / January 12, 2014)

BOSTON — At the end of last season, it already seemed clear Gracie Gold had surpassed two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner as the leading U.S. women’s skater, even if Gold had been one place behind Wagner at both the 2013 national and world championships.

Now there is no doubt, given Gold’s utter dominance of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships that ended Saturday with the 18-year-old from Springfield winning her first national title. Wagner acknowledged that during the awards ceremony when she told Gold, “Congratulations, you were the star of the night.”

There also was little doubt Wagner would get one of the three spots on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, despite a fourth-place finish that included a desultory short program and a dismal free skate, performances she unashamedly called “embarrassing.”

Sunday, U.S. Figure Skating picked the top two finishers, Gold and 15-year-old Polina Edmunds but bumped third-place Mirai Nagasu in favor of Wagner.

Was there a formal vote? If so, what was the tally? We apparently will never know, as USFS officials were as vague about such procedures as they were in creating selection rules that allowed body of work over the past year to carry a significant but nonspecific amount of weight.

In Wagner’s case, that tipped the balance.

“If you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she has the top credentials of any of our female skaters,” USFS President Patricia St. Peter said. “We don't use a single competition as the sole measurement for who should participate in the Olympic Winter Games.”

Wagner, 22, had advocates in Boston to remind everyone of those credentials, which included being the top U.S. finisher (fourth and fifth) at the last two world championships. Nagasu came here with no coach and an erratic record since she took fourth — the top U.S. finish — at the 2010 Olympics.

St. Peter said Nagasu had inquired about the procedures for an appeal.  Nagasu did not refer to it in a statement released Sunday night by USFS.

“I’m disappointed in the decision," Nagasu said.  "Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made."

Oh, yes, and NBC has made Wagner one of its most heavily promoted athletes in the buildup to next month’s Olympics.

At nationals, the fourth finisher gets a pewter medal. Some (Faustian?) alchemy turned it into something good as gold for Wagner, even if she had been no match for Gracie.

So the federation put the results aside, a move apparently unprecedented when applied to someone who had competed at the pre-Olympic nationals. It had previously happened in the cases of naming athletes unable to skate in the meet because of injuries: Todd Eldredge in 1992, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, pairs team Jenni Meno-Todd Sand in 1998 and Michelle Kwan in 2006.

“This one horrible performance is not what makes me the skater that I am,” Wagner said. “(The federation) is giving me the opportunity to go into the Olympics and make everyone forget about this.”

What still makes Wagner’s selection problematic is that for the second straight year, she has come undone in the free skate at the last two events heading to a global championship, worlds or Olympics.

In both December’s Grand Prix Final and this nationals, Wagner received negative grades of execution on four jumps, with two falls here and one in the final. A year ago, she fell twice in the free skate at both events.

“There seems to be a little bit of a pattern,” Wagner said, with a laugh. “Hopefully, I got the worst out of my system. I will admit I didn’t pull through at the national championships when I felt pressure. Going into the Olympics, I can just let myself skate without worrying about whether I am going to watch my dreams fall apart.”

Wagner had missed earning one of the two U.S. women’s spots at the 2010 Olympics by finishing third to Rachael Flatt and Nagasu at the U.S. championships.

Nagasu, 20, of Arcadia, Calif., was the only one of the top four to deliver an essentially clean free skate here. That she had finished seventh at the last two U.S. championships undoubtedly gave the selection committee a reason to bypass her.

“Hopefully they pick me to the team,” Nagasu had said Saturday. “I haven’t always been the most consistent skater, but under pressure I have been the most consistent skater most of the time.''

Edmunds, the ingenue from San Jose, Calif., came to Boston with no expectations. The Olympic Games will be her first senior-level event.

“Go big or go home,” Gold said of Edmunds.

She has a similar mindset about herself. In just four months after leaving her training base and former coach in the Chicago suburbs for Frank Carroll in Los Angeles, Gold’s words and actions are evidence of having overcome confidence issues that have plagued her for several seasons.

“I came here not to just make the team, I came to this national championships to win,” she said. “The closer we get to Sochi, the more and more I wanting to be going for a medal. I think it’s a realistic goal.”

It would also be a historic achievement. No one named Gold ever has won an Olympic medal of any color in any sport.

phersh@tribune.com

Twitter @olyphil

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