Ashley Wagner shatters records for third U.S. figure skating title

Ashley Wagner
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Ashley Wagner felt terrified. She skated terrific.

Wagner shattered the U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s records for free skate and total scores, compiling 148.98 and 221.02, respectively, to win her third national title in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday night.

“I’m terrified,” Wagner told her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, before gliding out for her free skate with a five-point lead over defending U.S. champion Gracie Gold, who was yet to skate.

Wagner, 23, landed seven triple jumps in her program to break Gold’s records of 139.57 and 211.69 from last year. She became the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005 and the first woman since Kwan to win three national titles. Kwan won nine.

“This, of my three titles, is the one that tastes the sweetest,” Wagner, also the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, said on NBC. “I’ve had so many critics over the past couple of months. I’ve had so many people who said I’m too old for this, I am burnt out. But, you know what, I am so hungry to make a career for myself. I was able to turn all this negativity into something positive.”

Gold finished second with 205.54 points, which was 15.48 behind Wagner (full results here). She fell on a triple flip. Gold was the top U.S. woman at the Sochi Olympics (fourth) and 2014 World Championships (fifth).

“It was really hard to skate a long program after the roar of the crowd and the standing ovation,” said Gold, who skated right after Wagner. “It brought me back to Sochi, skating after Adelina Sotnikova, who won.

“We’ve been at each other’s throats raising the bar,” Gold said of her rivalry with Wagner. They’ve been one-two at two of the last three U.S. Championships.

Wagner and Gold will next head to the World Championships in Shanghai in March, looking to win the first U.S. women’s medal at a Worlds or Olympics since 2006. That’s the longest U.S. women’s drought in the Winter Olympic era.

Wagner has bounced back after finishing fourth at the 2014 U.S. Championships and being controversially put on the three-woman Sochi Olympic team over third-place Mirai Nagasu.

“Last year’s nationals, that was horrifying,” Wagner said. “Then I had a so-so Olympics and Worlds. Then my Grand Prix season was solid but nothing all that remarkable. I felt like people were starting to write me off, and I wasn’t giving them any reason to believe I’m competitive.”

Then came the Grand Prix Final in December.

Wagner showed she can win a medal at Worlds when she improved from last place of six skaters in the short program at the Barcelona event to win bronze. The Grand Prix Final is the second biggest annual international competition behind Worlds.

“I am a force to be reckoned with,” said Wagner, who was seventh at the Sochi Olympics and Worlds last year and is looking for her first World Championships medal. “It’s time for people to start considering me someone who’s coming for the podium.”

Karen Chen, 15, finished third with 199.79 points in her senior national debut, landing six triple jumps in her fantastic free skate. Chen became the youngest U.S. women’s medalist since Nagasu won at age 14 in 2008.

Chen, however, is too young for the World Championships.

That could open the door for Olympian Polina Edmunds, 16, to make her second World Championships team since the U.S. will send three women to Shanghai. Edmunds fell on a triple Lutz in her free skate and dropped from third after the short program to finish fourth at 192.62.

Wagner mentioned one more thing, going back to her pre-skate conversation with her coach.

“I watched this awesome commercial before I skated, and throughout the commercial it was this coach giving a pregame speech, and one of the quotes within the commercial was, ‘Passion has a funny way of trumping logic,'” Wagner said, adding she has the quote on her mirror at home and repeated it to herself Saturday.

Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates held off siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani to win their first U.S. ice dance title. Chock and Bates were eighth at the Sochi Olympics behind gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are sitting out this season.

Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis will be medal threats at the World Championships against top couples from Canada and the reigning World champions, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy.

In pairs, Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim won their first U.S. title with the highest total score in U.S. Championships history. They completed the first quad twist by a U.S. pairs team in competition. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were second, likely locking up the second U.S. pairs berth at Worlds.

Neither team is likely to end a 12-year U.S. pairs medal drought at the World Championships. They were both outside the top six international pairs teams during the Grand Prix season. Russia, Canada and China dominate the event.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships conclude with the men’s free skate Sunday (4 p.m. ET on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Jason Brown tops men’s short program; quad debate stoked

Women’s final results
1. Ashley Wagner — 221.02
2. Gracie Gold — 205.54
3. Karen Chen — 199.79
4. Polina Edmunds — 192.62
5. Samantha Cesario — 182.82

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished one-two at each of the last three U.S. Championships.

Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
Puma
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, checklist complete, carries lessons into new World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin
Atomic
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Mikaela Shiffrin said she hit every possible statistical goal in the first 11 years of her Alpine skiing career. Keep that in mind as the storyline the next few seasons may turn to the World Cup wins record.

Shiffrin, who begins her 12th World Cup season in Soelden, Austria, in two weeks, is up to 74 victories on the circuit. The 27-year-old ranks third all-time behind Lindsey Vonn, who owns the women’s record of 82 wins, and Swede Ingemar Stenmark, who has the overall record of 86.

Shiffrin did rounds of interviews Thursday at the media day for her ski sponsor, Atomic. In one sitdown streamed by Atomic, she was asked, “Are you aiming for the record? … There’s just 12 left. Normally, winning 12 races, that’s a lot, but you already won 74, so it doesn’t sound that much anymore.”

“Just 12,” Shiffrin joked. “If you look at it like that, but that’s maybe oversimplification.” (Note greats including Americans Picabo Street and Julia Mancuso didn’t win 12 World Cups over a career.)

Then Shiffrin asked if the interviewer did in fact say 74 — “Yeah, you have 74,” the interviewer confirmed to Shiffrin, who sat between fellow stars Sofia Goggia of Italy and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway.

“Even after 74 … one race feels like a lot,” Shiffrin continued. “Twelve [wins] still feels like a large mountain to climb, for sure, but it’s step by step or race by race. If I just focus on what’s coming in the next couple weeks and then keep going from there, then we’ll see.”

From 2017 to 2019, Shiffrin won 11, 12 and 17 times on the World Cup. Her last three seasons were abbreviated after her father’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic and back problems. She still won an average of five races each year.

In an earlier interview Thursday, Shiffrin expressed confidence about her preseason form. She followed February’s Beijing Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth, by bagging her fourth World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in the sport, crowning the best all-around skier.

“Finishing off [at last March’s World Cup Finals] in Meribel, that final race of the season, I was thinking, I could use a moment to breathe,” she said. “There was also this part of me that’s like, I kind of didn’t want this to be the last race. I was a little bit antsy to actually get going on the next season already.”

Shiffrin took less of a break than a year ago, spending 10 days in Maui. She had “really productive” training camps in Colorado, Switzerland and Chile and arrived back in Europe on Wednesday for the run-up to the World Cup opener on Oct. 22.

As always, the priority is keeping her slalom and giant slalom technique top-notch. As long as that’s flowing, Shiffrin feels comfortable branching into the speed events, starting with super-Gs. She plans to race both the slalom and GS at February’s world championships, then possibly the super-G with the combined less of a priority. The downhill is “fairly doubtful,” but she has a few months to make a final decision.

Of course, Shiffrin raced everything at the Olympics in February. In interviews last winter, she couldn’t quite explain why the greatest technical skier in history did not finish any of her three technical runs at the Games.

Shiffrin gave a detailed, two-and-a-half-minute answer when asked Thursday if she went back during this offseason to analyze those races. Or if she is brushing them off as an anomaly.

“Statistically, it’s an anomaly, but there was a lot of culminating factors that could have been involved,” she said.

In basic terms, she got on her inside ski in the opening GS and fell within 13 seconds — “a technical flaw that had a much higher consequence than it’s ever had in any other race that I’ve ever done.” In slalom, she had too much intensity, or too much speed, in a section that required more precision and skidded out within six seconds — “I was not giving anything away, and then I gave everything away.”

“There was less margin for error in Beijing because of the snow conditions,” said Shiffrin, who like every other racer hadn’t previously raced on that slope of manufactured snow. “I don’t think I maybe considered that enough in the moment when I was skiing to kind of reel it in sometimes when it would have been necessary. But I also wasn’t skiing to reel it in or make it to the finish. I was skiing to like, blow the course apart. I was going for it.”

She hopes to take that mentality into this season. In the spring and summer, she devoted more time to developing equipment that works better on softer snow, which is becoming more commonplace at World Cup venues given warmer temperatures.

“If you have a checklist of goals you want to achieve before you retire, actually, my checklist is complete,” she said. “If I had one, it would be complete. Somehow, I feel like I still have something left to accomplish, or faster skiing to do, so that’s kind of why I’m here. Hopefully I can remember that when there’s points in the season that feel stressful or pressure. There’s nothing that has to be done.”

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