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Ashley Wagner: ‘I’m in the last couple of years of my career’

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Ashley Wagner is coming off her greatest accomplishment in skating, but at 25 years old, won’t be competing too much longer.

“I am in the last couple of years of my career, and honestly I feel like I’m getting better and better every year,” Wagner said Thursday. “And I just want to enjoy the skating while I still have it.”

It would be no surprise if Wagner ends her career after the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, should she make a second straight Olympic team and become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928, according to sports-reference.com.

10/21 Update: Wagner elaborated on her comments before Skate America, saying she’s not ready to give an exact date when she will hang up her skates competitively. “I know I’m definitely toward the end of my career, and I want to go out toward the top. … I don’t want to be one of those skaters that hangs around forever.”

Wagner said she has nothing to prove after taking a silver medal at the world championships to end a 10-year U.S. podium drought and pin a longtime goal.

That makes Wagner the favorite at next week’s Skate America (free skate live on NBC on Oct. 22 from 4:30-6 p.m. ET), her biggest event since worlds in April.

“I can’t really rely on going into these competitions being a world silver medalist,” Wagner said. “I have to kind of accept that that happened. That’s the past, it’s something I have, but at the same time it doesn’t affect this season.”

Wagner has one competition under her belt this season, finishing third at the free skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1 behind world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia and Satoko Miyahara of Japan.

Wagner called it “very successful,” given she said she was not in shape for a run-through, let alone a competitive program.

“I knew that the program components weren’t really going to be there because, for me, it was more just a run-through and getting the jumps out there under pressure,” Wagner said. “The performance wasn’t really there as a whole.”

Wagner’s goal for Skate America is to establish herself “as the leading U.S. lady.”

That means bettering Gracie Gold, who traded U.S. titles with Wagner the last four seasons. Gold had the highest short program score at worlds but fell to fourth after the free skate as Wagner ascended.

Wagner approached last season’s U.S. Championships as a step toward the world championships. She set to make the three-woman worlds team (a top-three finish, essentially) rather than putting too much emphasis on winning the national title. She’s keeping that mindset this year.

“I just really want to pace myself through nationals [in January], and my focus is getting to worlds and getting back onto that podium,” Wagner said.

Wagner, Gold and three-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan headline the Skate America field.

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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