GREENSBORO, North Carolina — Ashley Wagner is boasting that the American women can win medals at the world championships.
She certainly backed up the talk this week. Wagner won her third U.S. title Saturday, following through on her promise to up the difficulty of her program to compete with anyone.
Wagner added two new combinations to her long program, and she landed both of them for a total of seven triples. Her 148.98 points for the free skate and 221.02 overall were records for the event, beating defending champ Gracie Gold by a whopping 15.48.
Fifteen-year-old Karen Chen was third at her first senior U.S. Championships, but is too young for the senior world championships. Olympian Polina Edmunds was fourth.
When Wagner nailed her final triple lutz, she threw an arm in the air in celebration as her skate hit the ice, clinching what she called the sweetest of her three titles.
Choking up later, she boldly explained why: "This is the one that shows every single person that doubts me, every single person that says I'm too old, every single person that says I'm not capable of being a leading lady — this shows them that they need to shut their mouths and watch me skate."
Last year's nationals, when she came in as the two-time defending champ but finished a distant fourth, were "horrifying." The Olympics — which she made only because of her previous success — and worlds were "so-so." Her Grand Prix season last fall "was solid but nothing all that remarkable."
"I felt like people were starting to write me off," she said, "and I wasn't giving them any reason to really believe I was competitive."
A strong free skate at the Grand Prix Final to clinch bronze gave her some momentum, and then she added triple lutz-triple toe and triple loop-half loop-triple salchow combinations to her long program. The challenge seemed to invigorate, not intimidate, the 23-year-old.
A skater whose elements often have been downgraded by judges — she became an Internet sensation in Sochi for the sour look on her face at seeing surprisingly low scores — Wagner was precise on all her jumps Saturday. In the first year skaters are allowed to perform to music with lyrics, Wagner matched the ardor of the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack, her expressions as bright as her red dress.
Gold came into the day 5.02 points back and had to take the ice with the crowd still roaring over Wagner's performance. It reminded her of the Olympics, when she followed Russian gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova.
And just as she did that night in Sochi, Gold fell on her triple flip.
But Wagner's performance left even Gold feeling confident at the way the two have pushed each other. No American woman has won a medal at worlds since 2006.
The U.S. team for this year's event — which is in Shanghai in March — will be announced Sunday.
Gold recalled a phrase she once read: "Those that slay together stay together."
"We will be the friendliest U.S. rivals," Gold said, adding with a sly smile: "But it makes for great TV."
The 4-foot-10 Chen landed six triple jumps Saturday, bubbling with zest throughout the program. She broke her right ankle in late 2013, and it wasn't until a few months ago that she "finally felt like I could stand my ground," she said.
"I feel confident in what I'm doing and I can actually believe in myself and just go do what I can do," she added.
Mirai Nagasu, who finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games, left the ice in tears for the second straight nationals. Last year, she placed third in a resurgent performance but was bumped from the Olympic team by Wagner.
On Saturday, she got off to a solid start. But in the simplest of moves, skating around the ice, she banged against the wall, tumbling to the ice. Nagasu grabbed at her left knee during the program, then again after it ended. She was later able to smile for the camera, showing off the bloody scratch. Nagasu was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee and bruised cartilage.
In fourth place coming into the long program, just .76 points out of third, she finished in 10th.
Earlier, new champions were crowned in pairs and ice dance.
After two straight runner-up finishes, Madison Chock and Evan Bates won with six-time ice dance champs and Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White taking a break.
Chock and Bates held a slim lead over Maia and Alex Shibutani coming into the free dance, but they won easily with a personal-best 111.11 points to finish with 185.06. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third.
Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim became the first American pairs team to complete a quad twist in competition. They led by 5.63 points after the short program but were thinking about bigger things than nationals. So they went through with the new element, and Scimeca successfully rotated four times in the air before Knierim caught her.
The quad helped them set two records for the U.S. Championships: 136.48 points for the free skate and 210.49 total. They beat Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier by 10.57.
Scimeca and Knierim, who are engaged to be married, were the runners-up at nationals in 2013 and fourth a year ago. But the three teams that finished ahead of them are no longer competing.
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