Gracie Gold skates during the women's short program at the U.S. Figure… (Steven Senne / Associated…)
BOSTON — Polina Edmunds got a wake-up call two years ago. And she gave the top women in U.S. figure skating one Thursday night.
The 15-year-old from San Jose made her senior-level debut by finishing what only she thought was an unsurprising second on a night of short-program surprises at the U.S. championships.
Two-time defending champion Ashley Wagner wound up fourth. The unpredictable Mirai Nagasu was third.
Gracie Gold, for whom short programs have been a nemesis, was in utter command of this one. In her competitive debut of a new program, set to Grieg's "A Minor Piano Concerto," Gold rolled up 72.12 points for a lead of 5.37 over Edmunds going into Saturday's free skate.
Barely two points separated Edmunds (66.75) from Wagner (64.71), who made a hash of her opening combination.
"She [Edmunds] is the future," said Gold's coach, Frank Carroll, who also works with Edmunds occasionally.
That Edmunds' immediate future could include one of the three U.S. women's spots at next month's Winter Olympics is something she had thought about.
"I know if I skate two clean programs, there is a very high chance I can make it, because I have high technical difficulty," Edmunds said.
Only two years ago, Edmunds was worried her career was stalling because she had advanced only from seventh to sixth at the junior level in the national meet.
Last year, she became U.S. junior champion. Now Edmunds has a shot at becoming the first since Nagasu -- and second in history -- to win the junior and senior titles in successive years.
Thursday, she attacked her short program with nerveless elan. Edmunds opened with a huge triple lutz-triple toe loop combination, followed that with a big triple flip and grabbed the audience at TD Garden with her spins.
She clearly doesn't lack for self-assurance.
"I'm real happy with the way I skated my program, because it was a great program," she said.
Asked if she were surprised to be second, Edmunds said, "Not really, because my program has, like, the highest difficulty in it. I think that, like, it shouldn't really a surprise because, like, I have the elements and went out there and did them and got scores I think I deserved."
Wagner's surprisingly low score owed to problems with the landing of the first triple in her planned triple-triple combination. For the first time this season, she minimized risk by reducing the second jump to a double.
"I decided to be safe instead of sorry," Wagner said.
She admitted thoughts of her 2010 nationals short program returned after the mistake. A fall on her third jump four years ago had knocked her out of contention for the last Olympic team.
"It's hard to put 2010 behind you," she said.
Nagasu, who finished fourth in the 2010 Olympics, has essentially coached herself since late November, splitting with her former coach in Pasadena because of disagreements. She spent extended stretches since then training in Japan and also in Arizona.
"I needed to get out of my comfort zone, so I moved away for a little bit," she said.