Ashley Wagner conquers freezing temperatures; ‘Russian fleet’ is next

Ashley Wagner
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NEW YORK — Ashley Wagner skated at the Olympics, the World Championships, under the pressure of defending U.S. Championships, but nothing could have prepared her for The Rink at Rockefeller Center on Friday morning.

The temperature? Single digits. It felt below zero.

Wagner spun around the ice in teeth-chattering conditions, her breath visible and her bare skin reddened. She wore a black dress with gloves, but no cover over her arms.

She finished the skate, opting not to perform jumps, and scurried off the ice, covering her cheeks with her gloves and enveloping into a zip-up jacket. Somebody standing just behind the boards asked if she’d ever skated in this type of weather.

Wagner raised her eyebrows and replied with emphasis.

“This is the coldest,” the Southern California resident said.

Later, Wagner regained the feeling to offer more words, warmed up in the TODAY green room.

“It was more a test of my mental strength than anything else,” she said. “There’s nothing comparable. Nothing even close to that. That was absolutely frigidly cold.

“The main concern with something like that is that you don’t get hurt. Your body can’t be warmed up to really be able to move the way it should for skating. You just kind of have to play it safe.”

Friday ushered in reportedly the coldest weekend in New York in two decades. The type of weather to enjoy an indoor fireplace with a loved one on Valentine’s Day, not to rapidly cut through the air on blades, with little clothing.

“You always know that it’s going to be cold because it’s an outdoor event,” Wagner said of scheduling the skate. “It’s during the dead of winter, but I think this is like unreasonably cold for this time of year. I didn’t expect that, but I feel like I can take on anything now.”

Which brings up Wagner’s next big skate, under completely different challenges. She enters the World Championships in Shanghai in March coming off two of the greatest performances of her career.

The 23-year-old leaped from sixth place to a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final in December and captured her third U.S. title in Greensboro, N.C., in January.

She joined Irina SlutskayaMichelle KwanMao Asada and Yuna Kim as the only women to win medals at three straight Grand Prix Finals. Everyone in that quartet won at least silver in the Olympics.

She became the first woman since Kwan to win three U.S. titles. Kwan won nine.

“It’s still so weird for to even hear my name in the same sentence as [Kwan], let alone begin compared to her,” Wagner said. “Of course, it would be a dream come true to be even an ounce of what Michelle Kwan was, but I think I have so much work ahead of me to really be able to think about that. She accomplished so much and is a legend in the sport.”

Wagner said she is “absolutely” more confident going into these World Championships than any major international competition in her career. She skipped this past weekend’s Four Continents Championships to train and focus on Worlds.

Wagner felt she left points on the table with her spins at the U.S. Championships, where she shattered Nationals records for free skate and total scores.

“A lot of people called it the skate of a lifetime, and it was an incredible skate, no doubt, but I have more skates like that left in me,” Wagner said. “I think that I can improve on that.”

Wagner is seeking her first medal at a World Championships in her fifth appearance. She was fourth, fifth and seventh the last three years. No U.S. woman has won a medal at Worlds since 2006, the longest drought since World War I.

“The way Raf [coach Rafael Arutyunyan] has prepared me this entire season, I’ve been building and building, getting better and better,” Wagner said. “I need that time to make sure my technical arsenal is stronger than ever and secure. That way, under pressure, up against the Russian fleet, I’ll be able to hold my own.”

Wagner knows the medal favorites in Shanghai will be led by Russians. Wagner successfully kept them from a podium sweep at the Grand Prix Final and must beat at least one of them again to make the podium in Shanghai.

She will be boosted by the presence in Shanghai of close friend Adam Rippon, the U.S. silver medalist who roomed with Wagner at Nationals and helped choreograph her short program. They’re both competing at Worlds for the first time since 2012.

“It’s like a little bit of home,” Wagner said. “To have that one person who knows everything about me, has seen the way I’ve prepared for competition, someone to calm me down, it’s really been a tool for me. I think that was part of the key to my success in Greensboro.”

Video: Polina Edmunds rises to win Four Continents; Gracie Gold struggles

Valencia Marathon produces historic times in men’s, women’s races

2022 Valencia Marathon
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Kenyan Kelvin Kiptum and Ethiopian Amane Beriso won the Valencia Marathon and became the third-fastest man and woman in history, respectively.

Kiptum, a 23-year-old in his marathon debut, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 1 minute, 53 seconds. The only men to ever run faster over 26.2 miles are legends: Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09 world record, plus a 2:01:39) and Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41).

Kipchoge made his marathon debut at age 28, and Bekele at 31.

Beriso, a 31-year-old whose personal best was 2:20:48 from January 2016, stunned the women’s field Sunday by running 2:14:58. The only women to have run faster: Kenyans Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) and Ruth Chepngetich (2:14:18).

Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey finished second in 2:16:49, the fastest-ever time for a woman in her marathon debut. Gidey is the world record holder at 5000m and 10,000m.

Valencia is arguably the top annual marathon outside of the six World Marathon Majors. The next major marathon is Tokyo on March 5.

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Aleksander Aamodt Kilde wins Beaver Creek downhill

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BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde won his second straight World Cup downhill race to start the season, despite feeling under the weather.

Although dealing with an illness all week in training, Kilde powered through the challenging Birds of Prey course Saturday in a time of 1 minute, 42.09 seconds. It was enough to hold off Marco Odermatt of Switzerland by 0.06 seconds. James Crawford of Canada was third to earn his second career World Cup podium finish.

Kilde also won the opening downhill last weekend in Lake Louise, Alberta.

“It’s been a tough week,” Kilde said after the race. “I caught the flu in Lake Louise after a very, very nice weekend. It really hit me hard. Then I got a couple of days to rest and take it easy. … I felt OK. Still feeling it a little bit in my system.”

The Beaver Creek crew members had the course in solid shape a day after a downhill race was canceled due to high wind and snowfall.

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Kilde reached speeds around 75 mph in picking up his eighth World Cup downhill victory. That tied him with Kjetil Jansrud for the third-most downhill wins in the World Cup discipline among Norwegian men. The total trails only Aksel Lund Svindal (14) and Lasse Kjus (10).

“I found a really, really good set-up with my equipment and also with my skiing,” Kilde explained. “I believe in myself. I trust in myself. I have a good game plan. When I stand on the start, I don’t dwell on anything. I know that this plan is what I do and when I do that it’s going to be fast.”

Odermatt has been on the podium in all four World Cup races this season as he tries to defend his overall World Cup title. The 25-year-old finished third in the opening downhill of the season last weekend. He’s also won a giant slalom race and a super-G.

Ryan Cochran-Siegle wound up in seventh place for the top American finish. He was ninth in the downhill in Lake Louise.

“It’s been solid,” Cochran-Siegle said of his strides in the discipline. “A couple of little things here and there that pushed me off that top three. You have to ski with a lot of intensity and ski without abandon, in a sense. Today was a good step.”

Switzerland’s Beat Feuz, who won the Olympic downhill gold medal at the Beijing Games last February, tied for ninth.

The Beaver Creek stop on the circuit comes to a close Sunday with a super-G race. Odermatt will be the favorite after holding off Kilde in the opening super-G last weekend.

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