The ladies got their chance to show the Boston crowd what they could do today and boy, did they deliver. In one of the most technically gifted fields the event has ever seen, reigning U.S. champion Gracie Gold finally put down the program that she has been promising since she arrived on the scene in 2012. Her performance earned a career best 76.43 points, eclipsing her previous high by more than three points.
“I’m just so happy, excited, proud, and every emotion there could be,” Gold said. “I had a great time and trusted my training. I love being back in the TD Garden with excellent ice. The crowd today was truly exceptional. I felt supported all across the arena, really comfortable and really loved. To set a season best and personal best at Worlds was really a magical moment.”
From the moment her “El Choclo” program began, Gold was on fire. She opened with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, and maintained that fire through the last note of her music. As the Boston crowd leapt to their feet, Gold grabbed her face, wiped away a tear, and just took in the moment. “I didn‘t really draw anything that wasn‘t already inside me,” she said. “It‘s just the moment that made it extra magical in front of one of the best crowds I‘ve ever seen for a short program, especially.”
But Gold was just the tip of the iceberg. Nine of the top 10 ladies skated clean, and 21 of the top 24 attempted triple-triple combinations. One of those was Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya, who finished in second with a career best of her own. “I’m happy for 50 percent, because the free skate is still to come. It is too early to celebrate,” she said. “I didn’t expect this high score. When I went out, I was very focused and I didn’t think about anything, I just kept a cool head and I took it one step at a time in the program. I am well prepared and I expected a strong performance from myself.
The European bronze medalist, earned 73.98 points for her “Bolero for Violin” program, and, like Gold, opened with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. But the star of Pogorilaya’s program was the passion and maturity with which she performed. Flirty, without being overtly so, Pogorilaya had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand. “I was very happy inside, but I was very focused in the program and even after the performance,” she said. “I knew that this was only the short program and I have to fight for the second part, my free program, but I was very, very happy.”
In third place is Pogorilaya’s teammate, Evgenia Medvedeva, who many consider to be the favorite to win this event. The 2015 Junior World champion back-loaded her “Melodies of the White Nights” program, but it almost backfired. An unsteady landing on a triple flip that was to be in combination could have spelled disaster for the plucky 16 year-old, but she rebounded by tacking a triple toe loop onto her final jump — a triple loop. “Well, when you miss one element, the one you want to do the combination with, you get tense,” she explained. “You have to switch your mindset and do another combination that you haven’t trained so much. You have to fight and you cannot make mistakes.”
Medvedeva said that she was flattered by the attention of being the favorite here in Boston, and does not believe that the spotlight has changed her approach in her first World Championships. She is just three points behind Gold with 73.76 points. “I am very happy that there are so many people who truly believe in me and hope for me and support me,” she said. “I know it is a huge stage I am on, and it is a wonderful feeling to know that so many people are interested in me and follow the news. It is a great feeling to know that there are so many fans that support you.”
Finishing in fourth place was three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner who skated the best program of her long career. She earned a personal best 73.16 points. “I am so excited to finally get over that hump of the short program at Worlds,” Wagner said. “I love this program it speaks so much to me, it’s the kind of skater that I am, and to finally be able to skate it the way it’s meant to be shown – I’m just elated.”
Wagner opened with a great triple flip-triple toe loop combination, and danced her way through her “Hip Hip Chin Chin” program, asking the audience to come along for the ride. Wagner skated with maturity, femininity, and theatricality that should have earned her higher program component scores when compared with the rest of the field. But, in the end, the self-admitted underdog is happy to not have taken herself out of medal contention at this point of the competition.
“I think that I so often put myself in the spot where I have to be the underdog,” she said. “I can still go out and do a program, and I can still go out and put myself in great position. It’s going to be about me being able to separate the events, and to get back into that killer mindset. I’m still an underdog. I’m still not a favorite. And there are still people saying that I shouldn’t be here—that other girls should. I still have stuff to prove to myself and to everybody else.”
Also in the hunt for the title are Russia’s Elena Radionova and Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Rika Hongo, who finished in fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively. Each of these ladies performed well, and are within five to seven points of Gold.
Two-time world champion Mao Asada had a rough go of it today, falling on an opening triple Axel, and doubling the back half of a triple flip combination. “This is my last short program of the season, so I wanted to go out there believing in myself,” she said. “Even though this is my first World Championships in two years, I did not feel that very much, and instead focused on one competition at a time and building things up in training towards the World Championships. I have had an image of my last World Championships in my mind, and I want to skate with that image in mind.”