BOSTON – The crowd at TD Garden on the edge of downtown is extremely educated in the fine art of figure skating, and the cheering and clapping started early in Gracie Gold’s short program routine on Thursday night. By the time Gold finished her performance, there was a thunderous reaction from the crowd.

Gold was overwhelmed, too. She knew she had delivered the best performance of her 18-year-long life. Gold scored 72.12 to seize a big lead in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Barring catastrophe, Gold is on her way to Russia to compete in the Olympics. She will compete Saturday in the more expansive free skate.

She could be on her way to much more than just that journey overseas to Russia. Gold has the potential to join a long line of Skating Sweethearts, athletes like Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill who grabbed the imaginations and hearts of their  fellow Americans and became lasting sports icons.

Gold is athletic. Gold is precise. But Gold also has a certain something – like Fleming and Hamill – that could turn her into America’s biggest star from the upcoming Winter Games.