For the first time since 2011, U.S. Figure Skating crowned a ladies champion other than Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold.
Teenager Karen Chen dissolved the five-year consistency atop the ladies competition, capturing the national title Saturday at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City.
Chen, 17, followed her record-showing in the short program Thursday with the top free-skate score Saturday, compiling an overall total of 214.22.
“I am just in utter shock,” she said.
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Wagner took silver with 211.78 points. Gold, the defending national champion, fell to sixth at 179.62.
Gold and Wagner had combined to win the previous five national titles in the ladies event, the marquee program of the first U.S. Figure Skating Championships held in Kansas City since 1985.
“Knowing that I had skated the short (program) of my dreams, I wanted to follow it up with a close to perfect long (program),” Chen said. “I put some pressure on myself knowing that winning this thing was a huge possibility. I just wanted to chase after that thought.”
The winning skate took place in front of an oft-complimented crowd inside the Sprint Center, which also observed senior champions crowned in the pairs and ice dance events Saturday. The upper bowl of the arena was curtained off, but the lower bowl was nearly full.
“The crowd has been wonderful,” said Madison Chock, the silver medalist for the ice dance.
The audience was most invested in the ladies long program Saturday evening, which saw a final podium of Chen, Wagner and Mariah Bell.
The United States will take three women to the World Championships in March in Helsinki, Finland. The selections are largely — and often even exclusively — based on the results at the national event Saturday.
At the World Championships last season, Wagner took silver, ending a 10-year medal drought for American women in the Worlds or the Olympics. She will almost surely be making another trip to the Worlds in late March after her second-place national finish.
“I know that you always want to come away from this with a win, but my goal from the start of this has been to get through nationals,” Wagner said. “Especially coming off a rough and difficult Grand Prix season, this is just awesome.”
In one of nearly a dozen stops during her childhood, Wagner lived at Fort Leavenworth for nine months, when she competed for the Kansas City Figure Skating Club.
Wagner entered the long program in third place but hopped over Mirai Nagasu, who settled for fourth overall.
“(Chen) deserves the placement that she has gotten so far. That’s awesome for figure skating,” Wagner said. “I think we’re going to be seeing a very strong World team.”
It’s unlikely to include Gold.
Gold, who took skating lessons as a kid in Springfield, Mo., was the defending United States champion, a title that seemed to arrive a long time ago.
She struggled in the back half of 2016, and she was unable to rebound Saturday at an event that has provided previous success over her career.
“It’s just something about this year,” Gold said. “I’ve been in a funk. I’m glad this is not the Olympic year.”