By Philip Hersh, Chicago Tribune reporter
12:41 AM CST, January 12, 2014
BOSTON — Ashley Wagner did not want to take advantage of the rules — or lack of them — to back into one of the three women's singles spots on the 2014 Olympic figure skating team.
But a dismal performance in Saturday's U.S. championships free skate means that is exactly what Wagner needs.
Falling twice, Wagner was fifth in the free skate, fourth in the short program and fourth overall as Gracie Gold won her first national title in a runaway with 211.69 points, and Mirai Nagasu likely was left on the bubble.
Wunderkind Polina Edmunds, 15, sailing along until she fell on a triple flip, rallied and took second at 193.63.
Nagasu, who had been in a steady decline after finishing fourth in the 2010 Olympics, did two strong programs and was third at 190.74, exactly eight points ahead of Wagner.
"It's embarrassing as a two-time national champion to put out a performance like that," Wagner said. "Luckily, I had a decent season that definitely helps my case."
U.S. Figure Skating's Olympic selection procedure was left vague purposely to give wiggle room for someone like Wagner, 22, winner of the previous two national titles, if she did not make the top three at these championships.
"The rules are there for a reason," Wagner had said after the short program. "You could be the best skater all season, and it could just not be your two nights.
"At the same time, I am here to get onto that podium, to really earn that spot. I don't want to ever feel like I took away a spot from someone.''
USFS will announce the team Sunday. If it picks Wagner, as many expect, Nagasu seems likelier than Edmunds to be dropped.
"The feeling was with the new judging system it was most important to look at the overall performance of the athlete, not just at one event, and it was important for consistency to be taken most into account," USFS executive director David Raith said.
Nagasu, third in both programs, was the only one of the top four without a major error in the free skate before a near-sellout TD Garden crowd. Gold put two hands on the ice to avoid falling on a jump.
"I'm so happy," Nagasu said. "I didn't know if I would be able to get to this."
Nagasu, 20, the 2008 U.S. champion from Arcadia, Calif., had finished seventh the last two seasons. Her career was in apparent upheaval two months ago when she left her coach and came to nationals without one, a highly unusual situation for an elite skater.
"I did my best and hope they pick me," Nagasu said. "I am the only one with Olympic experience."
Gold, 18, of Springfield, Ill., had made a surprise coaching move in September, dumping Alex Ouriashev and her training base in the Chicago suburbs to join the venerable Frank Carroll in Los Angeles.
After struggling much of the season, she did a lights-out short program Thursday. Last of 21 to perform in the free skate, Gold started so well that the later mistake did not stop her from giving a celebratory arm pump after landing her final jump before finishing her program with a layback spin.
"On my layback, I was thinking I have a really great chance to go to the Olympics," she said. "Maybe it was a bit premature … but it was definitely there."
Carroll said he did not think the federation would keep either Wagner or Gold off the Olympic team unless "one of them falls all over the place."
Left unsaid is that Olympic broadcaster NBC has been heavily promoting both.
Edmunds' coach, David Glynn, was adamant the top three finishers at nationals should make the Olympics. He was convinced before the free skate Edmunds would be among them.
"She is 2014's version of Tara Lipinski as far as being tough," Glynn said.
Lipinski was 15 in 1998 when she became the youngest Olympic champion in history, a year after becoming the youngest U.S. and world champion. These nationals were Edmunds' first senior event.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC