ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Polina Edmunds skated with the poise of a champion.
She isn’t one — yet — but she looked far more comfortable than former winners Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday. The 17-year-old Edmunds holds a large lead after Wagner and Gold made major mistakes in their short programs.
Edmunds, a 2014 Olympian, skated cleanly Thursday to score 70.19 points as she seeks her first national title. Gold is second with 62.50 points, describing herself as “flummoxed” after she did just one rotation on a planned triple lutz. She later nearly crashed into the wall on an attempted triple-triple combination, settling for a double toe loop on the second jump.
Tyler Pierce, also 17, is third with 62.45 points. Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion, is fourth with 62.41 after falling on her triple-triple combination.
Edmunds was second to Gold in 2014 to earn an Olympic berth at age 15 and was fourth last year. Skating to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on Thursday, she smoothly landed her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination to open the program.
“I’ve never had the chance to be in this positon before,” she said. “I’m really excited and happy that I’m finally here.”
Despite receiving zero points for her single lutz, Gold still scored better than Wagner because her spins were judged at a higher level.
Wagner insisted she wasn’t upset at her performance and takes confidence from the big score her free skate earned at the Grand Prix Final.
“If I do a long program like that, I’m not saying it’s in the bag, but my long program is more than capable of making up a 15-point difference,” she said.
The free skate is Saturday. Gold had a harder time finding the positive, struggling to find the words to explain what happened.
“I just wasn’t present in the moment,” she said.
Pierce finished seventh last year at her first U.S. Championships at the senior level. She landed three triple jumps Thursday but had less difficulty than Edmunds in her program.
After Pierce finished 19th at last year’s world junior championships, she went back to her old coach, Tammy Gambill.
“She helped me get back on my feet,” Pierce said.
Earlier, Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea took the lead in the pairs competition with a short program that’s barely a month old.
They had talked about skating to “Take Me to Church” next season, but when their short program received disappointing scores in the fall, they decided to make the switch right away. They returned from a competition in Zagreb last month and got to work on it the next day.
The new music and choreography debuted Thursday, and Kayne and O’Shea skated the only clean program among the contenders on a day full of falls and flubs.
“We started as soon as we could, and happy we did,” O’Shea said.
Kayne and O’Shea, who finished third last year to miss out on a trip to the world championships, skated last and scored 69.61 points.
The defending champs, Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim, were second with 67.35 points after Knierim tumbled on their side-by-side triple salchows.
Marissa Castelli, who won two national titles with former partner Simon Shnapir, is in third with Mervin Tran at 64.12 points after she doubled their side-by-side triple salchows.
Earlier this season, Scimeca and Knierim became the first U.S. pairs team to qualify for the Grand Prix Final since 2007. But they struggled there, and Thursday’s short programs across the board were not an encouraging sign that American pairs skating can reverse its declines anytime soon.
“We’re disappointed in our program today,” Scimeca said. “But we’re optimistic and looking forward to the free program. It’s a close point difference between the top three, and we know if we throw down a great long we’ll be fine.”