Now, the waiting game begins
BOSTON -- So who will have gotten less sleep Saturday night: Ashley Wagner, Mirai Nagasu, Polina Edmunds or the U.S. skating federation members who must decide by noon ET Sunday which two of those skaters will join virtual lock and new national champ Gracie Gold for the final spots on the Olympic team?
"Sleep?" Nagasu said Saturday night. "I'm not going to sleep tonight."
That's understandable. Nagasu delivered a wonderful performance in the women's long program that earned a standing ovation from the crowd and a third-place finish at the U.S. national championships. That bronze medal, however, did not guarantee her a spot on the Olympic team because the U.S. federation will consider past performances as part of its final selection.
And that's where things get very complicated and very interesting.
Wagner is the two-time defending national champion, but she fell twice Saturday and finished fourth, eight points behind Nagasu. Her performance left her looking stricken in the kiss-and-cry zone, and she later described the routine as embarrassing. "I'm sorry that as a two-time national champion that that is what I put out," Wagner told reporters.
On the other hand, Wagner has been the best U.S. skater over the past couple of years and her fifth-place finish at last year's world championships helped guarantee that third Olympic berth for the U.S. women. That has to count for something, right?
Nagasu, meanwhile, has struggled in recent years, finishing seventh at last year's nationals. On the other hand, she finished fourth at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. So how can you bump a former Olympian who finished higher than someone else?
"The thing I can brag about now is that I'm the only person with Olympic experience, so I know how hard it can get," Nagasu said. "I don't know what my federation will do, but all I can say is I did what I had to today. I'll have to respect any choice that they make."
Then there is Edmunds. As the second-place finisher, she should not be bumped by the pewter medalist who finished 11 points lower. Then again, she is only 15 and has not skated internationally beyond the junior level. So does she have the necessary experience?
"I am 15. I am young, but I am age-eligible for the Olympics, and some of my role models, like Tara Lipiniski, she was 15 when she went to the Olympics," Edmunds said. "I've been skating for 13 years, so it's not like I just started skating a few years back. It's been a long time for me, too, and it's always been my dream to go to the Sochi Olympics.
"And I think that tonight was the night that we all had to prove ourselves, and I think that we did. There are a lot of strong skaters here, but in the end, we were the three [best], and I think that has something to say for itself."
Other factors are that Edmunds also has an appealing backstory for Sochi (her mother is from Russia), while Nagasu currently does not have a coach to act as an advocate for her. Wagner, meanwhile, has been touted as the country's top medal contender all season.
"Obviously, I am more than ready to become an Olympian," Wagner said. "Going to the Olympics, that's icing on top of the cake. Getting to the Olympics, that's the hard part. ...
"All these girls with the exception of maybe one or two of them, this is their first chance. This is my second chance; who knows if I get a third, so I think I just got overwhelmed by the pressure of it all."
This issue doesn't just end with the women's team. It extends to the pairs competition, where the U.S. has only two Olympic spots. Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay finished second Saturday, just .29 points ahead of the older and more successful pair of Caydee Denney and John Coughlin. They, too, went to bed Saturday night not knowing which team the U.S. would pick.
"I'm a little cloudy on how they actually do it," Bartholomay said. "I know they go all the way back through Grand Prix seasons to the previous national championships. I feel like it's a good procedure. Look at the past Olympics -- we haven't sent a bad team ever. They always know who's going to put down and who's going to do what."
The U.S. federation will try to send its best team again. But no matter the final choice, there will be a few skaters who are going to feel cheated.