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Ashley Wagner, ‘a mess’ in most recent event, still the favorite at U.S. Champs

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Ashley Wagner goes into her 10th senior U.S. Championships next week with a lengthy two months of rest since her last competition, which happened to be the worst outing of her Grand Prix career.

Usually, Wagner would have skated at the Grand Prix Final in December, but because she finished a career-low sixth at a Grand Prix event in China in November, she failed to qualify for the six-skater Grand Prix Final for the first time since 2011.

All Wagner needed was a fourth place in China to book a final berth. That shouldn’t have been a very difficult task, given she took a world championships silver medal last season and won Skate America in October. Wagner was riding the best skating of her career into Beijing.

But her old nemesis, under-rotating jumps, emerged in China. She finished outside the top five for the first time in her 25 Grand Prix starts dating to 2007.

“I was really furious with myself for blowing an opportunity that was right there, and the door was wide open for me [to qualify for the Grand Prix Final],” Wagner said Tuesday, adding that she was mentally and physically tired in China, leading to “a mess” of a performance. “I could either be mad and sit at home and watch these girls, know that I can compete with them, [or] work harder so that going to worlds I can be a top athlete that is competitive with these up-and-coming ladies.”

The second half of Wagner’s season begins with next week’s U.S. Championships in Kansas City, where the now-relaxed skater hopes to win a fourth title in six years.

She went about a new technique of training jumps to increase her quick-twitch motion, hopefully leading to fully rotating them consistently.

“Mentally, I’m feeling very confident,” Wagner said. “At this point in my career it is very easy for me to get mentally worn out and worn down, but I usually feel strongest when my training is backing me up and when I know that I am physically fit.”

VIDEO: Kristi Yamaguchi previews nationals

The 25-year-old is the oldest and most accomplished contender in a weakened field.

Defending U.S. champion Gracie Gold struggled mightily in the fall. Polina Edmunds, the U.S. silver medalist last season, hasn’t competed in one year due to a foot injury and has already pulled out of nationals.

But Wagner, perhaps still thinking about China, wouldn’t say she’s the favorite.

“The door is wide open for everyone,” she said. “I think that there is no obvious or clear front-runner. … I’m competing against myself, because I’m usually my own worst enemy at nationals. If I think about everybody else, that’s not going to help me.”

U.S. Figure Skating will choose three women after nationals to send to the world championships in Helsinki in March. Wagner will make a sixth straight worlds team with a top-three finish in Kansas City, and perhaps still be selected with a lower result.

Kansas City is a bit of a homecoming for Wagner. It’s one of the nine places she lived in a 10-year span growing up in a military family. She says it’s where her Olympic dream began, watching on TV as Tara Lipinski took gold at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games when Wagner was 6.

Wagner realized that dream by making the Sochi Olympic team — despite finishing fourth at nationals. She doesn’t intend for her career to end at next year’s Olympics.

“That puts so much pressure on an athlete to make it a dream season of all seasons,” Wagner said of making retirement plans. “If I feel like I’m still building and still improving, and I have something left to give, then by all means I’m going to keep on skating, because that’s how crazy I am about this sport. At the same time, I’m not the kind of athlete, I don’t ever want to be around long enough to watch my career dwindle out. So, for me, I’ll know when the time comes, but I’m not planning on retiring after the Olympics.”

MORE: Polina Edmunds out of U.S. Championships

Shaun White, Chloe Kim lead Team USA award winners

Shaun White, Chloe Kim
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Shaun White and Chloe Kim swept the Team USA Awards just like they swept the halfpipe gold medals in PyeongChang.

The snowboarders were named the top U.S. male and female Olympians on Thursday night at an awards show in Washington, D.C., on the eve of the Team USA White House visit.

The awards, hosted by Mike Tirico, air on NBCSN on May 12 from 6-7:30 p.m. ET.

White, 31, earned his third Olympic halfpipe title in four Games by attempting back-to-back double cork 1440s at a contest for the first time and landing them on his third and final run. White overtook Japanese Ayumu Hirano for the gold with 97.75 points.

Kim, 18 and at her first Olympics, injected far less drama into her final the previous day. Her first-run score of 93.75 would have been enough for gold, but she tacked on a 98.25-point victory lap on her finale with the first back-to-back 1080s by a woman at an Olympics.

The male and female Paralympian winners were both Nordic skiers. Dan Cnossen, a retired Navy SEAL, earned six medals after coming to PyeongChang without any podium finishes in 24 career Paralympic and world championships biathlon and cross-country skiing events. Oksana Masters earned five PyeongChang medals after dislocating her right elbow before the Games.

In 2014, the first edition of the Team USA Awards, Sochi slopestyle snowboarding gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg, luge bronze medalist Erin Hamlin and ice dance gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the Olympian honors.

In 2016, Michael PhelpsKatie Ledecky and the women’s gymnastics team were the Olympian winners.

2018 Team USA Awards nominees (WINNERS IN BOLD)
Male Olympian
Red Gerard, Gold, Snowboard Slopestyle
Shaun White, Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe — WINNER
David Wise, Gold, Ski Halfpipe
John-Henry Krueger, Silver, Short Track Speed Skating (1000m)
Chris Mazdzer, Silver, Luge (singles)

Female Olympian
Jamie Anderson, Gold and Silver, Snowboard Slopestyle, Big Air
Chloe Kim, Gold, Snowboard Halfpipe — WINNER
Mikaela Shiffrin, Gold and Silver, Alpine Skiing (giant slalom, combined)
Elana Meyers Taylor, Silver, Bobsled
Brittany Bowe, Bronze, Speed Skating (team pursuit)

Olympic Team
Jessie Diggins/Kikkan Randall, Gold, Cross-Country Skiing (team sprint)
Men’s Curling, Gold
Women’s Hockey, Gold

Olympic Coach
Jason Cork, Cross-Country Skiing — WINNER

Phil Drobnick, Curling
Mike Jankowski, Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding

Male Paralympian
Dan Cnossen, Gold, 4 Silvers, Bronze, Nordic Skiing — WINNER

Noah Elliott, Gold, Bronze, Snowboarding
Andrew Kurka, Gold, Silver, Alpine Skiing
Mike Schultz, Gold, Silver, Snowboarding
Andy Soule, Gold, Bronze, Nordic Skiing

Female Paralympian
Kendall Gretsch, 2 Golds, Nordic Skiing
Brenna Huckaby, 2 Golds, Snowboarding
Oksana Masters, 2 Golds, 2 Silvers, 1 Bronze, Nordic Skiing — WINNER
Brittani Coury, Silver, Snowboarding
Laurie Stephens, Bronze, Alpine Skiing

Paralympic Team
Sled Hockey, Gold — WINNER

Paralympic Coach
Gary Colliander, Nordic Skiing — WINNER

Guy Gosselin, Hockey
Graham Watanabe, Snowboarding

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MORE: Chloe Kim among Olympians in Time 100

USA Track and Field sets team for Penn Relays, live on NBC Sports

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World 100m champion Justin Gatlin headlines the U.S. roster for the Penn Relays, which air live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold this weekend.

Friday
Penn Relays: 5-6 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Saturday
Penn Relays: 12:30-3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold
Drake Relays: 3-5 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold

Gatlin is joined on the U.S. team for the Penn Relays in Philadelphia by U.S. 400m champion Fred Kerley, NCAA 800m champion Raevyn Rogers, plus Michael Cherry and Aaliyah Brown, who were part of U.S. medal-winning relays at last summer’s world outdoor championships.

They will compete Saturday in USA vs. the World races in the men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m and men’s and women’s sprint medleys.

Women 4x100m pool
Aaliyah Brown
Destinee Brown
Destiny Carter
Tawanna Meadows
Candace Hill
Kyra Jefferson

Women 4x400m pool
Jasmine Blocker
Kendra Chambers
Daina Harper
Kyra Jefferson
T’sheila Mungo
Raevyn Rogers
Kiah Seymour
Jaide Stepter

Men 4x100m pool
Leshon Collins
Jeff Demps
Justin Gatlin
Cordero Gray
Tevin Hester
Remontay Mcclain
Bryce Robinson
Blake Smith
Justin Walker

Men 4x400m pool
Michael Berry
Marcus Chambers
Michael Cherry
Kyle Collins
Najee Glass
Fred Kerley
Calvin Smith
Marqueze Washington

The schedule (p.m. ET):

Women’s 4x100m — 12:38
Men’s 4x100m — 12:50
Women’s Sprint Medley — 2
Men’s Sprint Medley — 2:10
Men’s 4x400m — 2:35
Women’s 4x400m — 2:52

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