By Johanna Bear

After opening up a five­ point lead after the short program, Ashley Wagner dug her heels into the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships leaderboard and never let go. Wagner’s“Moulin Rouge” free skate brought the crowd to its feet and solidified her place on the top of the podium and on the World Championships team that will represent the United States in March. This is Wagner’s third U.S. Nationals title, putting her alongside legendary names like Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, and Michelle Kwan as skaters who have won the competition at least three times. Her beautifully executed triple Lutz-­triple toeloop combination earned her a massive 11.40 points on her way to a free skate score of 148.98 and a total competition score of 221.02, which is a new personal best for her. It was also the first ladies free skate to score above 140 in Nationals history.

“This was the first competition in a while where I’ve been able to put out two totally solid performances. And it’s also the first competition in a while where I’ve said I’m going to put out two solid performances and then do that. I am really, really happy with tonight,” Wagner said with a smile, “Tonight was a stepping stone to what I think I’m capable of doing.”

Gracie Gold came into the free skate knowing that she would have to put together a nearly perfect performance to close the gap between her and Wagner, but ultimately a fall on a triple flip ended Gold’s bid for the gold medal, settling instead for a silver and a trip to the World Championships. Her “Phantom of the Opera” program earned 138.52 to add up to a total score of 205.54, and still managed to generate a positive crowd reaction. Despite not retaining the top score in the standings, Gold will look to this competition as a positive, considering that she was just coming back from a stress fracture that prevented her from competing at the Grand Prix Final.

“That was a great, great long program and I’m happy with my score,” Gold said, “Both of my performances at this competition had some flaws, a few that were fatal, but I was still able to put out solid performances. I know I didn’t take the title here, but all the women were flawless and it was a great competition. I’m more than happy with how the week went, but we still have some work to do before Four Continents and Worlds, but we’ll get there.”

At last year’s U.S. Championships, making her senior debut, Polina Edmunds shocked the country by medaling at the age of fifteen and going on to finish in the top ten at the Olympic games.  This year, it was Karen Chen who took the competition by storm and put herself on the podium at the same age by winning the bronze medal. She skated a clean and expressive free skate that belied her youth and earned a 135.13 on her way to a personal best of 199.79 in her senior National debut. Chen turned 15 on August 16. Because ISU rules state that you must turn 15 by July 1 in order to be eligible for senior international competition, Chen is ineligible for the World Championships, but named to the Junior World Championship team.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done because it’s been a tough two years,” Chen said, “I’m just very glad that I was able to go out there and do two programs that I’m very proud of and I just feel like it’s a good improvement from what I’ve done before and I’m very happy and I hope I continue to improve.”

Edmunds,who took home the pewter medal, put together an impressive follow­up performance to her surprising results one year ago. Despite a fall that gave her a one­ point deduction, Edmunds fought through to the end to end up in fourth place with a free skate score of 126.58 and a total of 192.62. Her ethereal “Peter Pan” program should prove to be an important building block in her quest to consistently contend with the top U.S. women.

“I’m okay with everything that happened,” Edmunds said after her free skate, “I pretty much fought for everything in the second half of the program and even though I fell I got up and continued the program and showed my fighting spirit to land the other jumps. I’m pretty happy with that.”

Because of the age ineligibility with Chen, U.S. Figure Skating gave the third spot on the World team to Edmunds.

After skating a short program that left her in a disappointing eleventh place, Samantha Cesario came back stronger in the free skate and used her “Carmen” music to surge up the leaderboard and round out the top five in the ladies event. While Cesario doesn’t have the technical prowess on the same level as the top competitors, her performance of the character of Carmen garnered her many important component score points en route to a 123.61 for her free skate and a total score of 182.82 for the event.

“It feels really good to go out and do my best and get a score I feel like I deserved.  I was happy and the crowd was awesome,” Cesario enthused after her performance, “I try to train every day so I have the confidence to go out and give it my best and I think I did that in the short and the free.”

Last year’s bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu looked to be in position to contend until she misjudged the distance between her blades and the wall on her back crossovers and snagged her blade, which ultimately derailed her podium aspirations and had her finish in tenth place for the competition. One month prior to the event, Nagasu had an MRI on her left knee, which showed a cartilage contusion. When she fell, she hyper-extended that knee and bruised the cartilage again. According to Dr. Bert Fields, the director of sports medicine for Cone Health, there appears to be no ligament tear or more serious cartilage damage.Late Saturday night, Nagasu tweeted, “Thank you for all the support today. I aggravated an old bone contusion and strained my hamstring. Other than that, my knee is intact.”

Figure Skaters Online’s Amber Glenn was also making her senior debut, and debuting a new free skate to “Skyfall.” Glenn struggled throughout the program and ended up in thirteenth place, but finished with a smile and will look to build off of the experience for the future. FSO’s Hannah Miller finished in ninth place, matching her placement from last year. Glenn and Miller’s scores totaled 159.41 and 168.87 respectively.

2015 World Championships

Polina Edmunds
Gracie Gold
Ashley Wagner
Alternate 1 – Samantha Cesario
Alternate 2 – Courtney Hicks
Alternate 3 – Mirai Nagasu

2015 Four Continents Championships

Polina Edmunds
Gracie Gold
Ashley Wagner
Alternate 1 – Samantha Cesario
Alternate 2 – Mariah Bell
Alternate 3 – Courtney Hicks

2015 World Junior Championships

Karen Chen
Tyler Pierce
Alternate 1 – Bradie Tennell
Alternate 2 – Hannah Miller
Alternate 3 – Leah Keiser