OMAHA, Neb.- Ashley Wagner is one step closer to reclaiming her position at the top of the podium at the US Figure Skating Championships .
The 21-year-old, who won the competition last year in San Jose, scored a 67.57 short program Thursday night at the CenturyLink Center, taking the advantage into Saturday’s free skate with the chance to become the first repeat U.S. ladies gold medalist since Michelle Kwan won eight consecutive from 1998 to 2005.
Agnes Zawadzki, the 18-year-old defending bronze medalist from Colorado, is second at 65.31, and 19-year-old Mirai Nagasu is in third (64.39).
After winning the gold last season, Wagner also won the Four-Continents championship, finished fourth at the World Championships in Nice, and was second in the Grand Prix Final this season after victories at Skate America and in Paris.
“I went out and skated solid,” Wagner said. “I felt like I really owned every jump, spin, element, so I’m very pleased with the performance, so I just hope I can keep my head on straight for the long program.”
Zawadzki, who was fifth in the NHK Trophy and third in the Rostelecom Cup this fall, skated to the soundtrack from “Sex and the City 2.”
“I’m really happy with the way I started off with my program,” Zawadzki said. “I did a solid triple-triple and Lutz, it was a silly mistake on the Axel, but I’ll do it for the long.”
Nagasu, who finished fourth at the Vancouver Olympics, is back in contention after finishing seventh last year. She was third in the NHK Trophy and fourth in the Cup of China on the Grand Prix circuit this season.
“I’m also pleased with how I skated,” Nagasu said. “My goal this season is to improve for each competition, and I feel that I did that. Going into the long program, I’d like to remain focused and confident.”
Hoping to reach the podium are Courtney Hicks (59.72) in fourth, Harvard freshman Christina Gao (58.74) in fifth, Yasmin Siraj (57.88) in sixth, and Samantha Cesario (55.74).
Gracie Gold, the 17-year-old reigning national junior champion and world junior silver medalist, sits ninth (54.08), 2007 world junior champion Caroline Zhang is 12th (49.99), and 26-year-old Joelle Forte is 14th (45.82).
“Coming in I was feeling nervous because no one can really prepare you for how it feels coming in as the champion,” Wagner said. “Mirai (2008 champion) can tell you that. It’s definitely tough, so I just kept my head on straight. Going into every jump, I just focused on the fact I was well trained.”
Competition from Omaha rolls on Friday with men’s and ice dance short programs.