BOSTON (AP) Gracie Gold uttered the words ''possible world champion,'' then winced a bit.
''I feel uncomfortable saying it,'' she acknowledged with a laugh.
In three previous world championships, the 20-year-old American has never even gone into the long program particularly close to winning a medal, let alone the title. But after Thursday's short program, she holds a lead of 2.45 points.
On Saturday, Gold could become the first American woman in a decade to win a world title. Any medal would also be the first for the U.S. since 2006, when Kimmie Meissner took gold and Sasha Cohen bronze. Along with Gold, fellow American Ashley Wagner is in position to possibly finish on the podium as well. She's in fourth, just .6 points out of third.
But with seven skaters within 6.54 points of first place, the top three could look very different after Saturday's long program.
Second-place Anna Pogorilaya of Russia also has never gone into the free skate at worlds close to the top of the leaderboard. Third-place Evgenia Medvedeva is competing at her first senior worlds, though the 16-year-old Russian has successfully handled the pressure in winning at the Grand Prix Final and European Championships this season.
Lurking just behind Wagner in the standings are two medalists from last year's worlds: Russia's Elena Radionova, currently in fifth, won the bronze, while Japan's Satoko Miyahara, who's in sixth, took the silver.
It's been an inconsistent season for Gold, who in her career has yet to put together a clean short and long program in a major competition. She was leading at the Trophee Bompard in France in November when the free skate was canceled because of the Paris terror attacks.
Gold wonders if maybe she shouldn't have competed at the Four Continents Championships between nationals and worlds, but she's stubborn about wanting to keep going back until she finally skates well there. Coach Frank Carroll said she put on some weight after nationals and that contributed to her struggles at Four Continents last month.
She was back in shape for worlds, and she's been in this position before at TD Garden, leading after the short program at the 2014 U.S. Championships with an Olympic berth on the line. On Friday, Gold recalled the thoughts that swirled through her head before that free skate, the rationalizing that it would be OK if she didn't qualify for Sochi. Gold kept her nerves under control that day to win her first U.S. title.
She won her second in January with a rousing free skate to ''The Firebird.'' The music selection came about during an offseason visit to choreographer Lori Nichol in Toronto. ''Swan Lake'' happened to play, and Gold started stretching her arms like a bird's wings. The ''Black Swan'' soundtrack had been used too often recently, so Nichol went looking for another possibility.
She asked Gold to keep an open mind when she first played ''The Firebird'' for her. There was no need for concern, Gold recalled Friday: ''I fell in love with it instantly.''
It's the kind of power-packed program that can win a major title, especially in front of a home audience.
''Should one of these (U.S.) skaters, one of these ladies, really skate perfectly and blow the roof off the building, the judges will be kind of hard pressed to go against the wishes of such a pro-American audience,'' three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir, who will call the long program for NBC, said before worlds started.
Gold, who was born in the Boston area, was advised by Carroll not to run through her free skate at practice Friday morning. But she decided at the last second to do it.
''I felt kind of daring,'' she said.
She likes sticking to her routine of doing her full run-through, and this is the sort of long program that needs it.
''You have to be up to that,'' Gold said. ''If I take a day off of doing a run-through, I can tell the next day. It's that kind of intense. It demands a lot, but I know that the benefits are so much higher.''