ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The music is ethereal, as close as humanly possible to the ancient concept of celestial harmony.
That is what Beethoven created in the piano sonata called “The Moonlight.” On Thursday night, Polina Edmunds came as close as humanly possible to skating in perfect harmony with it.
Over 2 minutes, 50 seconds of the short program at the U.S. Championships, the way the 17-year-old from San Jose, Calif. jumped and spun and glided her blades across the Xcel Energy Center ice was as ethereal as the haunting music.
And when the music stopped, the impression Edmunds had left on the judges as well as the audience was such that she would be the runaway winner of a short program in which the top two U.S. women, three-time champion Ashley Wagner and 2014 champion Gracie Gold, each made a huge mistake on her first jumping pass.
“I think Polina was spectacular tonight,” Wagner said, her impression dead on even though she had not actually seen Edmunds skate.
Edmunds wound up with 70.19 points, leaving her nearly eight ahead of a trio that included Gold (62.50), Tyler Pierce (62.45) and Wagner (62.41). The free skate final is Saturday night.
The grades of execution on Edmunds’ jumps may not have been spectacular, but the surety of her jumping was as impressive as it has been in two years.
“I think I did a really great job with it tonight,” Edmunds said. “I wanted to show the judges and the crowd how beautiful this program really is. I’m very happy that I put out a strong program technically and how the component (artistic) side went.”
There is a moment late in the program choreographed by 1996 U.S. champion Rudy Galindo that sums it up. When the tempo changes, Edmunds does a brief twirl, known as a twizzle, and it creates a brilliant illusion she has speeded up as well.
After a surprise second at her senior national debut in 2014, Edmunds had slipped to fourth last season.
“I’ve never had a chance to be in this position before,” Edmunds said. “I’m really excited and happy to be here.”
Fremont’s Karen Chen, third a year ago, has no chance to get there again this year. She fell twice and wound up 12th at 54.86.
“It is definitely very disappointing,” Chen said. “Today was one of those learning experiences.”
One would have thought Gold already had learned enough not to experience what she did, a brain cramp that turned a planned opening triple-triple combination into a single lutz worth zero points. Instead, Gold said she was “just flummoxed.”
“I just wasn’t present in the moment,” Gold said. “It took that mistake to really shock me back in, which is unfortunate. It’s not like a tragedy - yet. We can still turn this around.”
Ironically, Gold had vowed before the competition never to let herself give in and do a lesser number of rotations than called for on a jump.
“That’s why I don’t have any words,” Gold said.
Wagner’s mistake was one of execution. She fell on the triple toe jump at the end of her opening triple-triple combination.
“I’m not upset with that program,” Wagner said. “Unlike nationals in the past, I didn’t drag myself down too far.”
Polina Edmunds simply was on a higher plane.