Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner makes Olympic Team; women, ice dance, pairs named

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Ashley Wagner is going to Sochi.

A U.S. Figure Skating “international committee” chose Wagner as one of three women for the Olympic Team on Sunday, about 13 hours after she finished fourth at the U.S. Championships.

“I’m at a loss for words right now,” said Wagner, who was teary Sunday. “It’s been a really long four years. … I’m happy the federation was able to see beyond one bad skate.

“I’m on cloud nine.”

The move was expected. The U.S. Championships are not an Olympic Trials such as swimming or track and field, where the Olympic Team is drawn straight from standings.

U.S. Figure Skating also takes into account an athlete’s recent history in major events and who will have the “best chance for success” at the Olympics.

Wagner was chosen over 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu for the third spot despite finishing one place behind Nagasu in Boston on Saturday.

Wagner will join U.S. champion Gracie Gold and silver medalist Polina Edmunds on the Olympic Team.

Meet Edmunds, youngest U.S. Winter Olympian since 1998

“This competition is not the only event that USFS [U.S. Figure Skating] considers in selecting the team,” U.S. Figure Skating president Pat St. Peter told reporters. “It’s the results and participation in events over the course of the past year-plus. So if you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she’s got the top credentials of any of our female athletes.”

The Olympic ice dance and pairs teams were also selected and did not deviate from Saturday’s results.

2012 U.S. pairs champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin were not named to the team. They finished third Saturday behind Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir as well as Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, who were named to the team.

“The rules are there for a reason,” Wagner said after the short program Thursday. “You could be the best skater all season, and it could just not be your two nights.”

Nagasu impressed at the U.S. Championships by taking third, coming off seventh-place finishes the two years before. Wagner won the U.S. title in 2012 and 2013 and has been the best U.S. skater in major events internationally the last two years.

“It’s embarrassing as a two-time national champion to put out a performance like that,” Wagner said after falling twice in Saturday’s free skate. “Luckily, I had a decent season that definitely helps my case.

“At the same time, I am here to get onto that podium, to really earn that spot,” she said after she was fourth in the short program Thursday. “I don’t want to ever feel like I took away a spot from someone.”

Nagasu placed fourth at the 2010 Olympics, led the 2010 World Championships after the short program but plunged to seventh overall and hasn’t been a major international threat since.

Wagner was the favorite to win the U.S. Championships coming in. She was third at the 2010 U.S. Championships, when the U.S. had two Olympic roster spots, and was not named to the Vancouver team.

This is the first time since 2006 that U.S. Figure Skating strayed from U.S. Championships results. In 2006, an injured Michelle Kwan did not compete at the U.S. Championships but was later placed on the Olympic Team after filing a medical waiver. Kwan later withdrew after suffering a groin injury in Torino.

Here’s what the U.S. Figure Skating Olympic selection procedures outline for how the team is picked:

Take into consideration the results and/or performance data from the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, 2013 Senior Grand Prix Final, 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, 2013 Grand Prix Series events, 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, 2013 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and 2013 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final to determine athletes who will have the most performance impact and the best chance for success at the 2014 Olympics Winter Games.

It has been the experience of U.S. Figure Skating that the athletes who have had success at the international and Olympic level are those who have demonstrated consistent performances as opposed to the athletes who have had only a single great performance. Therefore, by not having the selection process based solely on one event, U.S. Figure Skating can select the best athletes to represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Wagner finished third at the 2013 Grand Prix Final, fifth at the 2013 World Championships, first and second in two 2013 Grand Prix series events and first at the 2013 U.S. Championships.

Nagasu finished third and eighth in two 2013 Grand Prix series events and seventh at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She was fourth at the 2010 Olympics, skating last.

“The thing I can brag about now is that I’m the only person with Olympic experience, so I know how hard it can get,” Nagasu said Saturday at a press conference. “I don’t know what my federation will do, but all I can say is I did what I had to today. I’ll have to respect any choice that they make.”

The two men’s skaters will be chosen after their free skate Sunday at about 7 p.m. ET.

Here’s the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating roster so far:

Women
Polina Edmunds
Gracie Gold
Ashley Wagner

Ice Dance
Madison Chock/Evan Bates
Meryl Davis/Charlie White
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani

Pairs
Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir
Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay

Canada unveils lucky loonie for Sochi Olympics

US women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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Russian pairs skater slices leg in worlds practice, needs 10 stitches (video)

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Russian pairs skater Yevgenia Tarasova needed 10 stitches after her partner’s skate sliced her leg in practice Wednesday.

Hours later, Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skated to third place in the short program at the world championships in Helsinki.

“We were thinking about withdrawing because after this incident we left the ice immediately, there was a long break off the ice, we didn’t know how I would feel in skates,” Tarasova said afterward. “But when I was asked, ‘Will you skate?’ I said, ‘I will!’ And I wasn’t thinking about the pain during our performance.”

Morozov called her “a hero.”

In Thursday’s free skate, Tarasova and Morozov will be largely tasked with keeping Russia from going three straight years without world championships pairs medalists, which would be the longest drought for Soviet and Russian pairs since their dominance began in the 1960s.

Tarasova and Morozov trail Chinese leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 1.86 points and second-place Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany by .47.

Another Russian pair is in fifth place going into the free skate (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Full worlds short program results are here.

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MORE: U.S. pairs skater back from life-threatening condition