Chen grabs surprising lead in short program at US nationals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Teenager Karen Chen held off 20-something veterans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold to grab a surprising lead Thursday in the women's short program at the U.S. figure skating championships on Thursday night.

Chen, the 2015 bronze medalist in this event, had fans clapping for each splendid spin and the 17-year-old home schooled high school senior out of California floated in the air to ''On Golden Pond.''

Maybe gold at the podium could be next.

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Just 4-foot-10, the pint-sized skater blew kisses to the crowd and skated head up and confident to the kiss-and-cry area. She clasped her hands and smiled as her routine, which she choreographed herself, wowed judges and fans and scored 72.82 points.

Chen maximized her point total in footwork and spin elements and now has gold on her mind. The free skate is Saturday.

''If I'm able to pull out a perfect free skate and skate my best, it's surely a possibility,'' she said.

Mirai Nagasu was second with 71.95 points and Wagner third at 70.94. Gold was fifth with 64.85 points.

Wagner, a bronze medalist last year, injected needed life into the event with a strong start to ''Sweet Dreams'' by the Eurythmics. But she wore down and had a shaky landing on the double axel.

''That's the last jump of mine on tired legs, you kind of stick to sticky ice,'' she said. ''I think in the long program, it won't be a problem.''

She otherwise looked confident, even winked to the crowd, and the crowd went more wild for her triple flip-triple toe than any other move of the night. Wagner, who would be 26 in Pyeongchang, competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics and finished sixth in the ladies' competition, then helped the U.S. team win a bronze medal in the newly formed team event.

The three-time national champion had 70.94 points and she said she was in a ''great spot'' for the long program.

''People do not understand how difficult of a position I am in,'' she said. ''It might seem like I'm on top of the world ... but this is really a tough position to be in. It's mentally been weighing on my shoulders all season. To show people I'm a fighter, I'm really proud of that.''

The 21-year-old Gold opened up on her triple flip attempt and failed to score any points for that element. Gold came to Kansas City trying to erase a lackluster Grand Prix season, but the two-time and reigning U.S. champion had said her confidence was ''surprisingly high.'' She failed to dazzle in front of the pro-Gold crowd and remind everyone that she could still land on the Olympic podium.

''It wasn't what everyone else delivered,'' Gold said.

She said she felt ''slow'' as she readied for the triple.

''It needed tighter, faster,'' she said. ''It didn't have the speed of the other jumps in the program. In practice, I would have taken a lap and just gone faster.''