Ashley Wagner has spoken openly during the ups and downs of the last few seasons about questioning how much longer she’ll skate and what exactly she wants to accomplish as her career winds down.
“The end is in sight,” Wagner said Friday. “That creates a whole new type of pressure.”
Wagner, 24, will carry the title of defending champion into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minn., next week, where she eyes her fourth total National crown.
She can become the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Maribel Vinson in 1937, but Wagner spoke more Friday about her international standing.
“I want that World title,” she said. “I think that’s a tall order, by far, but I also think that if I go out and put out a solid program and performance, technically, I think that’s not entirely out of the question.”
Wagner has finished fourth, fifth, seventh and fifth at the World Championships the last four years. No U.S. woman has made an Olympic or Worlds podium since 2006, the longest drought since World War I.
The World Championships are in Boston in a little more than two months, creating the incentive for home-ice advantage to end the medal drought.
In the past two years, Wagner has said she’ll continue to skate as long as she can physically and mentally push through it and stressed that she won’t be “old” at age 26 during the 2018 Olympics.
She’s pointed to 2010 Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner as examples of successful, mature skaters. Asada is 25. Kostner is 28. Neither has retired.
“I’m getting better every year,” said Wagner, who shattered U.S. Championships scoring records last January and, in the fall, broke her personal short program and free skate bests in international competitions. “I’m pushing my limits. … I know that I’m capable of much, much more.”
The U.S. title is expected to come down to Wagner and 20-year-old Gracie Gold, who have finished within two spots of each other at each of the last three World Championships.
Wagner and Gold placed fourth and fifth, respectively, at the Grand Prix Final in December, behind Russian winner Yevgenia Medvedeva (16 years old), Japan’s Satoko Miyahara (17) and Russian Yelena Radionova (17).
Wagner joked that recent Russian teenage champions last for about three years, “and then a new top Russian comes through.”
“I’ve been at the senior level, essentially for 10 years,” Wagner said. “I’ve been skating for almost 20. Skating has been a huge chapter in my life. It’s completely natural at this point to kind of have those moments of doubt because I feel like, everywhere I look, there’s a newer, fresher, younger skater, who is coming up that is technically sound and solid and practically undefeatable. It’s never-ending, so I think that for me, I am always having to work that much harder to stay relevant, to stay in shape, to keep on pushing the envelope. I know that 24 isn’t old, but at the same for this sport, it’s not young.”
Wagner, a military brat, calls herself “stubborn” and “hard-headed.”
That’s helped her overcome tearful performances, most recently a last-place short program at the Grand Prix Final in December that, again, left her questioning why she continues to compete.
The next day, Wagner broke her international-best score for a free skate, missing the podium by 1.32 points.
“I really don’t think that any other top lady has improved as much as I have at my age,” she said.