KANSAS CITY — Ashley Wagner can become the oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champion in 90 years, but it would not be wise to tell her that.
“I think that this sport focuses on age way too much,” the three-time U.S. champion Wagner, 25, said in a press conference after Thursday night’s short program at Sprint Center (recap, videos here). “I’m so sick of hearing about my age. I’m so sick of it guys. If anybody asks me one more question about my age, I’ll just stop talking. It’s ridiculous.”
Wagner placed third in the short program, 1.88 points behind leader Karen Chen, who is 17 years old. She’ll try to surpass Chen in the free skate Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).
Chen sat in Thursday’s press conference between Wagner and second-place Mirai Nagasu, a 23-year-old who won the U.S. title way back in 2008.
“They’re my role models,” Chen said. “I watched them skate for years and years.”
Wagner then interjected before the next question.
“You just made both of us feel so old,” Wagner said, drawing laughter.
Truth is, Wagner is often asked about her age, her experience, her highs and lows, and answers respectfully and with wisdom. She did again after competing Thursday night for the first time in nearly two months, under the pressure as U.S. Championships favorite.
“I choose to view the word ‘veteran’ as experienced, and experience is never a bad thing, because I’ve gone through the good experiences and the brutally terrible awful experiences,” said Wagner, who last season earned world championships silver, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s drought.
NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski was surprised to learn Wagner wasn’t particularly interested in questions about her age.
“Age is definitely a factor,” Lipinski said Friday. “You can pretend it’s not, but it is. I tried to pretend that it wasn’t, but it was. It was talked about a lot. I was too young [winning the Olympics at age 15]. Whether it’s the opposite [age] range, age is a factor.”
Wagner competes in a sport where, in other top countries, crops of teens are replaced by the next crop of teens. At last month’s Japanese and Russian Championships, the oldest women’s podium finisher was 18 years old.
Wagner may be past the usual prime years for skaters, but Lipinski pointed out that being (very) young has its disadvantages.
“I felt that I didn’t have a lot to draw on,” said Lipinski, who at 14 became the youngest U.S. women’s champion in 1997. “I didn’t have a lot of outside perspectives. Skating was my life. So any small mistake took me so down, and it was very hard for me to put this sport in perspective.”
Wagner was asked if she worried she may have peaked with that 2016 World Championships silver medal.
“If I peaked,” she said, “I would have retired.”
If Wagner makes the PyeongChang Winter Games, she would become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928. Which would actually be an incredible accomplishment in a teen-dominated sport.
That sort of statistic was probably furthest from her mind in Thursday’s press conference.
“We definitely need a new crop of girls to come in,” Wagner said, cracking a smile, “because I will die one day.”Follow @nzaccardi