Figure skating: Wagner grabs early lead at US nationals

GREENSBORO, United States - Veteran Ashley Wagner showed that she's still got it while pairs skater Haven Denney survived near collision with the boards on the opening day of the US Figure Skating Championships.

The 23-year-old Wagner won the ladies short programme Thursday by earning 72.04 points for a five-point lead over pre-event favourite and defending champion Gracie Gold.

Gold, 19, finished with 67.02 points while 16-year-old Polina Edmunds placed third with 66.04 points.

"One down, one to go," said Wagner. "I was able to go out and try a newer, technically demanding programme and put on a solid performance. This is a great stepping stone."

The former two-time USA champ Wagner is trying to become the oldest women to win a US title since Michelle Kwan in 2005.

Mirai Nagasu placed fourth with 65.28 points while Courtney Hicks rounded out the top five with a 65.01.

Nagasu finished third at last year's nationals but was passed over for the US Olympic team in Sochi, Russia in favour of Wagner who was fourth. Wagner finished seventh in Sochi.

The Sochi Games were the first since 1936 where the Americans didn't win a medal in singles or pairs events. The US hasn't won a medal in women's singles since 2006.

Denney and her partner, Brandon Frazier, came close to disaster in their programme to the theme from The Godfather, when Denney landed just centimetres away from the side boards.

"I yelled 'wall!'" said Frazier of the throw triple loop which sent Denney sailing towards the boards. "I threw her and I didn't see she was curving. I was very nervous, I didn't want her to smack." Said the 19-year-old Denney, "It is one correction we know to make for the long (programme)."

Denney and Frazier are in second behind Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim heading into the pairs free skate on Saturday. Scimeca and Knierim have 74.01 points while Denney and Frazier finished with a 68.38.

Scimeca and Knierim's score is a record for the highest short programme total in US history.