BOSTON (AP) A long program yet to come, Gracie Gold feels confident enough to declare that perhaps it's time for the first world title by an American woman in a decade.
''We're only halfway through, but I can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel that maybe the drought is ending, which would be amazing,'' Gold said after taking the lead in Thursday's short program.
No U.S. woman has even finished on the podium since Kimmie Meissner took gold and Sasha Cohen bronze in 2006. But at a home world championships, the Americans now have a chance at two medals with Ashley Wagner in fourth.
Gold scored 76.43 points, followed by Russian teens Anna Pogorilaya (73.98) and Evgenia Medvedeva (73.76) and Wagner (73.16).
Starting with Wagner, seven of the final skaters were all sharp Thursday, making for a bunched leaderboard going into Saturday's long program. The third Russian teen, Elena Radionova, was fifth with 71.70 points, followed by two Japanese women: Satoko Miyahara (70.72) and Rika Hongo (69.89).
Gold, who was born in the Boston area, won her first U.S. title here at TD Garden two years ago. In the last several days, she said, she felt welcomed wherever she went.
At January's U.S. Championships, her short program was shaky from the start - on her opening triple-triple combination, she managed only a single lutz and afterward pronounced herself ''flummoxed.''
But Thursday's performance ''was a really magical moment,'' she said. With a red flower in her hair, she skated to an Argentine tango with passion and power. Gold could have received an even higher score if not for an edge that was slightly off on her triple flip takeoff.
Her coach, Frank Carroll, worked with the last American singles skater to earn a world championships medal: Evan Lysacek, who won the title in 2009 the last time the event was in the U.S.
''She skates so consistently day in and day out, short and long program,'' Carroll said of Gold's practices, ''the maddening thing about it is when she doesn't (in competition).''
No such problems Thursday.
''I was absolutely delighted,'' he said.
Pogorilaya, 17, was the least accomplished of the three Russians coming in, finishing third behind her two countrywomen at both the national championships and European Championships.
''I didn't expect this high score,'' she said. ''When I went out, I was very focused and I didn't think about anything. I just kept a cool head.''
Medvedeva, 16, won the Grand Prix Final and the European title to come in as the favorite in her first season at the senior level. She cost herself points with a shaky landing on her triple flip that was supposed to be a triple-triple combination. She was able to add a triple toe loop to her triple loop later in the program to salvage a triple-triple, but the small mistake left her in third.
''I certainly could show more potential and am hoping to do that in the free skate,'' Medvedeva said.
Wagner landed on her backside again at TD Garden, but this time it was because she lost her balance celebrating a sharp short program. The last time she competed in Boston two years ago, she came into nationals as the two-time defending champ. Then she fell twice in her free skate.
''At the end of the day, I'm still so grateful for this event. It was terrible; it was horrifying. It was a nightmare,'' Wagner said. ''But I'm the athlete I am today because of that.''
Wagner finished a distant fourth at nationals that year, earning a trip to Sochi only because of her past successes. The skater she knocked off the Olympic team, Mirai Nagasu, received a spot at this year's worlds just a couple of weeks ago when Polina Edmunds withdrew because of injury.
Her short program music this season couldn't have been more appropriate: ''Demons'' by Imagine Dragons. She exorcised some Thursday with a strong performance that had the crowd on its feet. Nagasu under-rotated her toe loop in a triple-triple combination to finish in 10th place with 65.74 points.
''It's time for a new memory,'' she said, ''and today was proof of it.''
Later Thursday, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France repeated as ice dance champs, defending their title despite missing the Grand Prix season because of injury. They were followed by two American teams, just the third time the U.S. has had multiple ice dance medalists at the same world championships.
Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani won silver and Madison Chock and Evan Bates took bronze.