Ashley Wagner, unshaken by 2014, out to reclaim U.S. title

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner wants to lead U.S. Figure Skating into not only the World Championships in March, but also the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

“It starts with me getting my national title back,” she said in a phone call with media Monday.

Wagner goes into next week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C., as a slight favorite, co-favorite or the top challenger to defending champion Gracie Gold.

Wagner, the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, finished a shockingly low fourth behind Gold at last year’s event in Boston and was controversially put on the three-woman U.S. Olympic team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu. Wagner earned her spot on that team based on her results across all competitions the previous two years.

“It does not haunt me,” Wagner said of last year’s U.S. Championships, which left her in tears.

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of Wagner officially making her first Olympic team, the news coming via text message from U.S. Figure Skating hours after her flawed free skate.

A month later, Wagner won a bronze medal in the Sochi team competition and finished seventh in the individual event, two spots ahead of countrywoman Polina Edmunds, who was second at the U.S. Championships.

“It’s so hard to put into words what your dreams coming true really feels like, and what it does to you,” said Wagner, who in 2010 was third at the U.S. Championships, just missing a two-woman Olympic team. “Making it to the Olympics, getting the bronze medal, that was everything that I’ve really ever wanted with this career. Now, I have this amazing luxury that I can kind of do whatever I want with skating.”

Two goals immediately come to mind. Win a third national title, something no U.S. woman has done since Michelle Kwan (who won it nine times).

She must go through Gold, the only U.S. woman to score higher than Wagner in the fall Grand Prix season.

Gold thrust onto the scene at the 2013 U.S. Championships, jumping from ninth after the short program to finish second to Wagner — by a tiny 2.27 points — with the second-highest free skate at a Nationals under the new scoring system. Wagner, who fell twice in her free skate that day in Omaha, called Gold’s performance then “lights out.”

Gold, now 19, missed the prestigious Grand Prix Final in December due to a small stress fracture in her foot. Wagner called Gold “a gift” on Monday.

“In skating, she makes me uncomfortable,” Wagner said, “because she’s always kind of breathing down my neck.”

Without Gold at the Grand Prix Final, Wagner won bronze, skating with nothing to lose in the free skate after placing sixth out of six skaters in the short program.

“I think that people take me a little bit more seriously now,” Wagner said. “They see that it is possible that I can go for the title, and I’m not just kind of along for the ride.”

Wagner’s next objective, should she make the three-woman team for the World Championships, is to stand on the podium at Worlds in Shanghai in March. She finished fourth at Worlds in 2012, fifth in 2013 and seventh in 2014.

Powerful Russia will send three women to Worlds, all likely at least five years younger than Wagner, who at 23 admits she is one of the older women in the sport.

She must outscore at least one of the Russians to win her first Worlds medal. No easy task, given four Russians topped Wagner in the Grand Prix Final short program.

“I don’t like to get beat,” Wagner said, “And I do not like to get beat by girls.”

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