Ashley Wagner has Worlds medal in sight, but aims higher

Ashley Wagner
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If this is the year the U.S. women end their medal drought, Ashley Wagner is the favored skater to make the podium at the World Championships next week.

“I need to prove now more than ever that I belong,” Wagner said Monday, pausing before finishing her thought, “and I think Nationals definitely did that for me.”

Wagner, 23, is a military brat who takes pleasure in continuing to skate after her critics called her to step aside for the next generation of teens to pass her by.

Her best career performances came this season, rallying for bronze at the Grand Prix Final in December and reclaiming the U.S. title at Nationals in January, shattering records for her third crown.

Wagner now leads an American trio into the World Championships in Shanghai, looking to keep dominant Russia from a one-two-three sweep and to capture the first U.S. women’s medal since 2006.

How will she pull that off?

“I need to get all the levels on my spins and my footwork and have a clean-edge [triple] Lutz,” Wagner said. “I know that it’s going to be a little bit more difficult at Worlds because it’s going to be compared against many, many flawless triple Lutzes. So I’m going need to make sure that that outside edge is very clear. And the triple-triple [jump] combination, which I think at the past couple competitions I’ve shown I’m really capable of doing it. Now I just really need to consistently keep on delivering it.”

The mountain is high to overtake the two best Russians — Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova. Wagner landed seven triple jumps in a clean free skate at the Grand Prix Final and still scored more than five points fewer than Tuktamysheva and Radionova.

But the bronze medal may be up for grabs, as it was at the Grand Prix Final.

The third Russian, Anna Pogorilaya, fell in both of her Grand Prix Final programs and then finished more than 17 points behind Tuktamysheva and Radionova at the European Championships in January.

Nobody in the women’s field next week comes in already owning an Olympic or World Championships individual medal.

Wagner counters the Russians with experience they can’t match. This will be her fifth World Championships appearance.

“I can offer a level of emotional connection to my performances,” Wagner said. “I’ve lived through it all.”

Wagner will also be competing against countrywomen Gracie Gold, the top American last year in the Olympic season, and Polina Edmunds, coming off a breakthrough victory at the Four Continents Championship in February.

Gracie Gold goes into Worlds after turbulent season

They are the same three women who finished fifth (Gold), seventh (Wagner) and eighth (Edmunds) at the 2014 World Championships, one month after they made up the U.S. team in Sochi.

It’s a rare window of consistency for the U.S., which fell behind Japan and then Russia in the last decade. It’s cyclical, Wagner said.

“It’s kind of like how training hubs change as years go by,” Wagner said. “Colorado Springs is a training hub. Then Boston is a training hub. It’s just a natural process for different countries to be stronger at different times. Japan was reigning with Mao Asada for a long time. Right now, they’re building up their junior ladies field. … Russia had a drought for a very long time. Now look at them. … I know that for the U.S. it’s uncommon to have such a long drought, but I think that we now finally have a very talented field.”

Russia had zero women in the top seven at the 2010 Olympics. Japan, with Asada taking the year off and perhaps done for good, is not expected to factor into the medals next week.

In January 2014, Wagner was in tears after she finished fourth at the U.S. Championships but was picked for the Olympic team over third-place Mirai Nagasu due to her stronger recent résumé.

In February 2014, she became best known at the Olympics for an Internet meme.

Now, Wagner gushes about her sport.

“I am madly in love with skating,” she said. “As long as I can physically and mentally push through this sport, I’ll be around.”

She hopes that a World Championships medal will not be the cherry on top of her career. She wants more.

“The whole reason I’m in this sport is to get that Olympic medal,” said Wagner, who does own a Sochi team event bronze but was seventh individually. “[If I win a Worlds medal] I think I would start thinking ahead, start planning to figure out how I would try to take over the world.”

Polina Edmunds hopes reputation doesn’t impact Worlds

Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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