Gracie Gold competes during the free skate program at the U.S. figure skating… (Charlie Neibergall / Associated…)
OMAHA — This was the Gracie Gold everyone was waiting for.
After a disastrous short program in her senior national debut Thursday, Gold simply blew the doors off the CenturyLink Center in Saturday's free skate, wiped out an 11-point deficit, 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, who became the first repeat women's winner since Michelle Kwan in 2005.
Two falls 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 at nationals in the eight seasons of the new scoring system, behind Sasha Cohen's 134.03 in 2006. Her performance, with seven huge triple jumps, erased the 11-point lead Agnes Zawadzki had over Gold after the short program, in which Zawadzki had been second.
Zawadzki was third for the second straight year at 179.63. Mirai Nagasu, a close third after the short program, wound up seventh for the second straight year.
"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, 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, she had done so well in 2012 and skated so brilliantly from start to finish — first at nationals, second at worlds — she assumed that 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 at Skate Canada, wound up seventh in the competition and confessed to being taken aback by the difference in atmosphere between junior and senior events.
"I had unreasonable expectations about what it would be like," Gold said on the eve of her Thursday debut at senior nationals. "You can't expect perfection the first time out [but] I am a perfectionist at heart. That's what makes me a great skater. It also can be my worst enemy at times."
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won the pairs event, surviving a free-skate glitch to finish ahead of Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim. Meryl Davis and Charlie White became the fifth ice dance team to win five straight U.S. titles.