Gracie Gold scores 72.12 for lead

BOSTON -- By not forgetting last year, Gracie Gold did something very memorable in these U.S. Championships.

Gold easily skated off with the women's short program Thursday night with a career-high 72.12 points. Her sensational performance built on strong jumps, improved presentation and a rapport with the audience put her more than five points ahead of 15-year-old Polina Edmunds and nearly seven points ahead of a resurgent Mirai Nagasu.

Two-time defending champion Ashley Wagner was fourth.

The top three women will go to the Sochi Olympics. She might settle for Gracie Silver or Gracie Bronze there, but for now, the 18-year-old Gold is on top, erasing bitter memories of her flop in the short program at the 2013 nationals.

"It was one of my best shorts," Gold said. "I feel a little bit different standing here than being in ninth.

"I was able to skate the way I trained. I'm so glad I was able to breathe and bend my knees. I just trusted my training."

It worked so well that with a repeat of her superb free skate from last year, Gold will be a lock for the Olympic team. The long program will be Saturday night following the pairs free skate.

Earlier, hometown favorites Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir ignored all the pressure of carrying the hopes of friends and family in the crowd to run away with the pairs short program.

The defending champs staked themselves to a huge lead of 6.63 points.

Gold's triple lutz-triple toe loop combination got her off to a strong start, and the program kept on building. She earned the highest possible level on all her other elements.

Her performance was no surprise given that Gold is one of the favorites here to claim an Olympic spot. But Edmunds, the 2013 U.S. junior champion, stunned most everyone with her routine as the final skater of the night.

She matched Gold's combination and made her bubbly program look almost easy -- as if she knew she belonged in the top echelon.

"It couldn't have been much better," she said. "I shouldn't be surprised. I have all the elements. I just went out and did them."

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