Ashley Wagner looks to 2018 after Worlds breakthrough

Ashley Wagner
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NEW YORK — Once Ashley Wagner flew home and settled down after the excitement of her World Championships silver medal, her coach posed an interesting question.

“Do you want to keep skating?” coach Rafael Arutyunyan asked her after they returned to their Southern California training base.

Yes, Wagner plans to compete through the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

It would be a shock if she didn’t. At a seasoned 24 years old, she’s the first U.S. woman to earn an individual Worlds medal since 2006.

But she wasn’t offended, or really surprised, by Arutyunyan’s query.

“He’s such a realist,” Wagner said at a Figure Skating in Harlem event on Manhattan on Monday night. “He has been with so many athletes, where they just want to get their World medal, and then they’re good to go. They’re happy with their career.

“He didn’t ask me in a way that he thought this was my only chance to do well. He meant it more in a practical way. You know it’s only going to get harder. Is this really what you want to do? Because if it is, he’s committed 100 percent. He just needs me to be committed that much.

“I have a long ways to go before I’m the athlete I want to be for 2018, but I think that with him I’m in good hands.”

The only time that silver medal sinks in is when Wagner rewatches video of her free skate at Boston’s TD Garden from two weeks ago.

“The audience was unlike anything I’ve ever heard,” she said. “It reminded me of the Michelle Kwan era of figure skating. They were so loud and passionate about the performance, you could feel it in your chest.”

Wagner’s climb to the top of the podium will mean getting past Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva, who at Worlds broke Yuna Kim‘s free-skate record and easily beat Wagner by 8.47 points overall.

Medvedeva, 16, is the youngest woman to earn an Olympic or World title since Tara Lipinski in 1998.

“You can tell that she’s a younger skater, but beyond that, technically, everything is so supreme,” Wagner said of Medvedeva, the third different Russian to win an Olympic or World title in the last three years.

“I left points out on the table at Worlds, and I know my little flaws,” said Wagner, who has fought to nail down triple-triple jump combinations in recent years and could have been stronger on her jumps at Worlds. “They used to be big flaws. I’m slowly crunching down the numbers and getting where they need to be. My competition, their biggest challenge at this point is longevity. I’ve already gotten past this point. I’ve proven that I can stick around. That’s going to be their biggest test. I’d rather be in my shoes than theirs.”

Wagner spent last week choreographing her program for the Stars on Ice tour, which begins Friday in Hershey, Penn. She received help from two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott, who took a break from competition this past season but hasn’t announced if or when he’ll return.

“You never know with him,” Wagner said. “I feel like he has feelers out, seeing if that’s what he wants to do.”

Wagner said she’s seen the emotional interview from teammate Gracie Gold after she fell from first to fourth at Worlds, but they hadn’t yet spoken in the whirlwind since Boston.

“She’s a perfectionist, and that’s how she got to this level,” Wagner said. “She’s very tough on herself. I don’t think she needs to be that tough on herself. But she’s an athlete. She’ll bounce back from this. She’ll learn from it.”

Then there’s another Sochi Olympian, short track speed skating silver medalist Eddy Alvarez, who happens to be Wagner’s boyfriend and now a minor-league baseball player with the Birmingham Barons.

Wagner said Alvarez watched the Worlds free skate while on a bus with his parents FaceTiming a screen to him.

She’ll travel to Alabama in early May to catch his performances in person.

“Fall/winter is his time to come out to me,” Wagner said, “and then spring/summer I go out to him.”

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