BOSTON — Gracie Gold took a big step toward an Olympic berth by winning the women's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday night.
Gold, 18, and last year's runnerup, had a career-best 72.12 points, which easily put her ahead of last year's junior champion, Polina Edwards, and 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu. Two-time defending U.S. champion Ashley Wagner was fourth after a major mistake on her first jump passage, executing a triple flip-double toe loop instead of her planned triple-triple.
At last year's nationals, Gold had a weak short program, finishing ninth. She then won the free skate to finish second overall behind Wagner.
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.
Women's and pairs free skates are Saturday.
The championships are the last qualifying event for next month's Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The United States has three women's spots and two pairs. The Olympic team will be announced Sunday.
Castelli's jaw dropped when her and Shnapir's mark of 73.13 points was announced.
"I was in shock at first; I was not expecting that," she said. "I like to try to calculate it in my head. I would have been happy with 66 or 67, so it was just insane."
Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, who train at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Manatee County, were in second, leading third-place DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc by 0.1 points.
Caydee Denney, a 2010 Olympian from Wesley Chapel, and John Coughlin, the 2012 pairs champs, returned after missing last year's nationals as he recovered from hip surgery. But two mistakes by Denney on jumps, left them fourth, a point behind Leng and LeDuc.
The crowd was screaming for Castelli and Shnapir from the moment they took the ice to warm up for their performance, the last of the afternoon.
The roars swelled as they skated to Black Magic Woman and Smooth by Carlos Santana. Their speed on the ice and the height of their jumps were on another level from the rest of the competition.
"The energy in the house was enormous, and it really helped us," Shnapir said.