By Brandon Penny | March 31, 2016, 7:01 p.m. (ET)
Gracie Gold skates in the women's short program at the 2016 ISU World Figure Skating Championships at the TD Garden on March 31, 2016 in Boston.


BOSTON -- From the kindhearted baristas at Starbucks to the welcoming doorman at the venue’s security entrance, there was something about the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships that told Gracie Gold it would be a special event. The signs she was receiving all week culminated in a personal-best score of 76.43 in her short program Thursday evening at TD Garden in Boston.

Gold led the field of 38 skaters and heads into Saturday’s free skate as a favorite to earn the first world championships medal for a U.S. woman in 10 years, since Kimmie Meissner struck gold and Sasha Cohen the bronze in 2006. Nearly 2.5 points behind gold is Anna Pogorilaya of Russia (73.98), followed by compatriot Evegenia Medvedeva (73.76). Team USA’s Ashley Wagner is in fourth, also within reach of a medal after scoring 73.16.

“I was cautiously optimistic that it was going to go really well,” Gold said of how welcomed she felt in Boston. “I just felt calm and welcomed. This was a really amazing crowed. Even when I was skating for the five-minute warm-up and they called my name, and the huge reaction – I guess I just wasn’t expecting it. If I wasn’t so focused, I would’ve felt emotional about that kind of support.”

In addition to skating in her own country, Gold is also skating in the city where she was born, as well as the city where she won her first national title and qualified for her first Olympic team in 2014.

Those were just some of the factors that contributed to an experience the 20-year-old could only describe as “magical.”

The magnitude of her achievement in the short program hadn’t sunk in yet, she noted nearly 20 minutes after her performance, but a carefree, almost aloof, attitude helped her find success.

“In Sochi (at the Olympics), I had no idea what I was doing, I was just kind of winging it, and that’s what it felt like today,” she said.