SOCHI, Russia – Late on a Sunday night last month in Boston, Ashley Wagner was going through a break-up that had left her in tears earlier in the weekend: she was saying so long to her free skate program.
“The break-up with “Romeo and Juliet” was when I fell twice at Nationals,” the American skater told journalists Tuesday night after her first official Olympic practice. “That was a really bad break-up, so I kicked [the program] to the curb and said, ‘You’re done!’ There’s no looking back. I love this new program, I love Delilah the character and I just can’t wait to show everybody.”
Wagner is having the skating equivalent of a shotgun wedding with the “Simon and Delilah” program that she’s replaced “Juliet” with, resurrecting an old flame that she used during the 2012-13 season in hopes of resurrecting her skating form.
“This [program] makes me so competitive,” said Wagner, who fell a total of three times at the U.S. Championships last month and finished fourth. “It raises the hair on my arms and makes me want to go out there and be vicious, and Juliet is not very vicious. I can take names with this program, but with Juliet I couldn’t really say that.”
Wagner hopes it’s her own name that is in the headlines as Sochi comes to a close in two weeks’ time, and not because of a lapse in performance. Her drop to fourth at Nationals meant the U.S. Figure Skating Association’s selection committee needed to step in and pick her over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu, a decision it said pointed to Ashley’s body of work over the last year, which includes a top-five finish at the World Championships and three Grand Prix medals.
So with a ticket to Sochi tucked safely into her skate boot, Wagner turned to the thorn in her costumed side: her free skate. She went through a process in three weeks that most skaters give an entire season to let play out, though her “Samson and Delilah” has some her heart, something the “Romeo and Juliet” performance could never win over.
“There’s nothing easy about what I did,” said the 2012 and 2013 national champion. “It’s absolutely crazy and insane that I decided to change it, but I’m passionate about what I do and I’m so driven to get onto that podium. I just felt in my heart that program would not get me there. It is a huge risk, but I’m working with a program that I’m really in love with.”
Tuesday night Wagner stepped out onto Olympic ice for the first time in her career following a long day that started in Munich and included a stop on the “TODAY Show.” She hit her first triple-triple combination jump with a clean and sturdy landing in the element she fell on in both tries at the U.S. Championships.
“I can’t sugarcoat it, [the triple-triple] is what is going to make or break this competition for almost everyone in this event,” Wagner said at the practice facility. “I need it to be solid and the more I can do it in practice the better I’ll feel under pressure.”
The pressure was what got to her in Boston last month, but Wagner said then that she believes she’ll be more at ease in Sochi. And if her jet-lagged, 18-hour day, late-night practice on Tuesday was any indidcation, she might be right.
“This is what I have been working towards my entire life,” Wagner concluded. “I remember watching Tara Lipinski when I was seven years old and thinking, ‘Hey! That looks fun!’ Since that moment I’ve said I wanted to be an Olympian and here I am.”