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

Carreira, Ponomarenko understand the depth of U.S. ice dance at nationals

Carreira and Ponomarenko
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GREENSBORO, N.C. Heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro this week, up-and-coming ice dancers Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko focused on their “quads” not four-revolution jumps, but still pretty tough to execute.

“(Our coaches) have us doing double run-through weeks, triple run-throughs, even quadruple run-throughs, to make sure we’re fully ready,” Carreira said. “We’re drilling a lot more, so at nationals we go in 100 percent confident.”

Pasquale Camerlengo, who trains the team along with primary coach Igor Shpilband, agreed that the run-up to Greensboro has been grueling for the skaters from Novi, Mich.

“We always plan a week we call the quads, performing (programs) four times,” Camerlengo said. “We’re trying to make them ready physically and work their stamina, to handle their programs in competition, which is a little bit different than in practice. Physically, they’re ready for it.”

Tough practices are just one component of what’s been a challenging but productive sophomore senior season for the two-time world junior medalists, fifth in the U.S. in 2019.

Thus far, they’ve competed at six international competitions, stretching from Lake Placid, N.Y., in August to NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, in late November. Six is a lot, considering other top teams they’ll compete against in Greensboro have competed three to five times so far this season.

“Igor wants to get more experience at the senior level, and also more world points,” Carreira, 19, said. “For that we have to compete. We get out there and compete as much as we can, so our programs feel more trained.”

Those programs – a rhythm dance to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot” and flamenco free dance to “Farrucas” – stretch their abilities far more than last season’s routines. Competing every two weeks or so left little time to make adjustments, so the past six weeks were the key to their preparation for Greensboro.

“We pushed a lot of changes we needed to make until after NHK, to smooth out the programs and really train them,” Ponomarenko, 18, said.

He added that the grueling first half of 2019-20 was a necessary ice dance rite of passage.

“It’s very different from our first season. We really didn’t know what to expect. Now we kind of know where we’re at and how we can improve. We definitely feel the sophomore slump this year, but we just want to compete and keep putting our good performances.”

On paper, Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 2018 Grand Prix results – which included a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup – look more impressive than the sixth-place finishes they earned at Skate America and NHK this season. But the skaters don’t think the placements tell the full story.

“Last season, results-wise, it might have looked better, because a lot of (top) teams took the Grand Prix season off last season,” Carreira said. “This season, I feel our programs are more difficult and we’re skating better. We want to improve our consistency so that we can compete with the top teams.”

It doesn’t take much to lose points in an ice dance routine, especially on step sequences and “twizzles,” a series of fast rotations moving across the ice. A few slips here – including a small mistake on their twizzles in the rhythm dance at Skate America – can easily drop teams out of the top group.

“They always have the feeling they could do more,” Camerlengo said. “But the season is a progression. They’re getting better and better. That’s the goal, to have them (be) more reliable.”

“They need to do what they’re capable of,” he added. “They just have to do what they’ve learned, with no fear, and just go for it.”

In Greensboro, Carreira and Ponomarenko will have to throw caution to the wind to grab one of the three U.S. ice dance spots at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal this March.

With Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, very likely battling for gold, the Michigan skaters have their sights set on bronze. It’s a herculean task, considering the reigning U.S. bronze medalists, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and notched career-best scores at Skate Canada this fall.

All three of those teams train together in Montreal. 

But Carreira and Ponomarenko think their programs, strengthened by adjustments and all of those quadruple run-throughs, give them a fighting chance.

“(A bronze medal) is more realistic now than last season,” Carreira said.

“I believe we’ve really grown as skaters,” Ponomarenko said. “Our programs are much more difficult, which has really helped us improve. I believe the podium at nationals is very reasonable. It could be achieved with some good skating.”

Other teams could be in the mix. Last season, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter placed a strong fourth, but injuries forced them to withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events this fall. A new pairing, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, has gelled quickly, winning two medals at Challenger Series international events.

“The level of U.S. ice dance level is high, the depth in the U.S. is really the top worldwide,” Camerlengo said. “But the podium, it is reasonable for Christina and Anthony. They have been working hard and they have a very good level to fight for the medal. We’ll see how they will perform here. They’re ready for it.”

Not all of the team’s challenges are on the ice. The Montreal-born Carreira – who has lived and trained in Novi since she was 13 – faces hurdles gaining her U.S. citizenship, without which the couple cannot compete at the Olympics. Last May, she petitioned U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to be deemed an “alien with extraordinary ability” under the immigration code, which would help smooth the way for legal permanent residency status. She was denied and filed suit against the USCIS, later dropping the action.

Carreira is still working to achieve a pathway to U.S. citizenship and prefers not to discuss the issue.

“I can’t really say anything,” she said. “We’re working on it, we’re hoping for the best.”

Citizenship issues never entered the skaters’ minds when they teamed up in the spring of 2014. Ponomarenko and his parents, 1988 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, had long admired Carreira’s skating. When he and his former partner Sarah Feng split after the 2014 U.S. Championships, he tried out with Carreira in Novi.

“We really worked well together from the beginning,” Ponomarenko said. “I had wanted to skate with Christina for a really long time even before getting together, so it was no-brainer. The bump in the road (citizenship) can be worked through.”

“There were so many good factors it would be, I think, stupid to let something that can be fixed get in the way of (our partnership),” Carreira said. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The ice dance competition in Greensboro kicks off with the rhythm dance on Friday afternoon, with medalists decided with the free dance on Saturday night.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Coronavirus forces Olympic soccer and boxing qualifiers to move

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Olympic qualifying events in two sports were moved from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday because of an outbreak of a deadly viral illness.

A four-nation Asian qualifying group for the women’s soccer tournament was switched from the city at the center of the health scare to Nanjing.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifying tournament scheduled for Feb. 3-14 in Wuhan was cancelled. No new plans were announced.

The decisions followed Chinese health authorities telling people in Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

The Asian Football Confederation said the round-robin group — featuring host China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand — will be played on Feb. 3-9, retaining the same dates, in Nanjing.

More than 500 people have been infected and at least 17 killed since the outbreak emerged last month. The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. All involve people from Wuhan or who recently traveled there.

In the soccer qualifiers in China, two teams advance to a four-nation playoff round in March. That will decide which two teams from Asia join host Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

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