OMAHA, Neb. — This was the Gracie Gold everyone was waiting for.
After a disastrous short program in her senior national debut Thursday night, Gold simply blew the doors off the CenturyLink Center in Saturday's free skate, soared from ninth to second and earned a place on the U.S. team for the World Championships in March.
It was one of the most dramatic finishes in U.S. Figure Skating Championships history.
Shaking off a bloody nose just before she took the ice, Gold gave a dazzling display of speed and jumping to win the free skate by 11 points and nearly unseat defending champion Ashley Wagner, now the first repeat women's winner since Michelle Kwan in 2005.
The 13-point lead over Gold that Wagner built in the short program was the difference. Two falls in the free skate did not prevent the judges from being kind enough to Wagner that she finished with 188.84 overall points to 186.57 for Gold.
Gold's free skate score of 132.49 was the second highest ever at nationals in the eight seasons of the new scoring system, behind Sasha Cohen's 134.03 in 2006. With seven huge triple jumps, she erased the 11-point lead the short program runner-up, Agnes Zawadzki, had over Gold.
"After the short program, I didn't want to compete (but) I knew I had to pull through," Gold said.
Zawadzki was third for the second straight year with 179.63. Mirai Nagasu, a close third after the short program, wound up seventh.
"I didn't get over my head with thoughts or expectations," Gold said. "I just went out there and skated like I know how to skate."
Gold, 17, who lives in Elk Grove Village and trains at two Chicago-area rinks, had let her expectations get the best of her at the start of his season, her first as a senior level skater.
Although her resume included just one successful season as a junior, Gold had done so well in 2012 she assumed such results could come right away as a senior.
It didn't work out that way. Gold fell on her first jumping pass in her senior Grand Prix debut last fall. Then she fell on her first jumping pass at nationals, did a single axel rather than the required double and found herself seemingly going into the free skate with little chance at one of the two spots on the U.S. team for the world championships in March.
"I actually thought this could be possible," Gold said of finishing second. "I have a very loaded long program. I knew if I skated a perfect program I would be able to pull up to the podium."
The judges agreed. Although her free skate was lacking in transitions and performance quality in places, it included some of the most technically immaculate and powerful jumps a U.S. woman ever has performed.
Gold's technical scores were more than 13 points higher than Wagner's. Her component — or artistic — scores were within five points of the more polished Wagner.
"It was definitely not the win … the performance I imagined myself having," Wagner said. "But the fact I was able to be repeat champion is something to be proud of."