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Ashley Wagner’s pain not limited to Olympic years

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Ashley Wagner said she is prepared to face “demons” at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, given public nightmares at nationals in 2010 and 2014.

What the three-time U.S. champion kept more private were the struggles she endured at the last two world championships — mental and physical.

About a month before the 2016 World Championships in Boston, Wagner had what she called “a freak accident” after performing at an ice show in Canada.

“I caught my toe pick and just body slammed myself down onto the ice,” Wagner said recently while promoting Bridgestone, one of her sponsors. “Immediately, I knew that I had done something terrible.”

She partially tore the quad muscle in her landing leg. Wagner rated the initial pain as a seven out of 10. It lessened, but it would bother her for two months.

Wagner never considered withdrawing from the world championships team. A worlds in a skater’s home country is a rare opportunity.

“I was careful in training and knew that if I could get through a long program in training, competing wasn’t going to be an issue,” she said.

Wagner had the performance of her life at worlds, ending a 10-year U.S. women’s medal drought by taking silver.

“You’re going into a jump, and you just know it’s going to hurt,” Wagner remembered. “There’s a lot of anxiety that comes with an injury like that, but you have to turn your head off at that point.”

Wagner chose not to discuss the injury in interviews before or right after worlds. She did reportedly mention it at Skate America six months later.

“I didn’t want that to be the story [at worlds],” Wagner said. “I was already mentally dealing with so much. The last thing that I wanted to see was a reminder of my injury left and right.”

Then came the 2016-17 season. On paper, it was Wagner’s least successful campaign in six years.

She recently disclosed that her boyfriend of three years, Olympic short track speed skater Eddy Alvarez, broke up with her right before worlds last March.

“It wasn’t just my relationship,” she said. “I was really struggling last season with finding the heart.”

She placed seventh at worlds, matching her lowest finish at the annual event in her last five starts.

“I feel like things are always crumbling down around me,” she said. “But as soon as that was done, I finally felt like I was working toward something [the Olympic year] and that conviction in what I wanted to accomplish in the sport.”

In Wagner’s 11 years at the senior international level, she also endured five or six concussions from her head hitting the ice in falls, according to reports earlier this year.

In 2009, Wagner was the best U.S. woman in the fall Grand Prix season. She placed third at nationals in January 2010, missing the two-woman Olympic team.

In January 2014, Wagner went to nationals as the two-time defending champion. She placed fourth and was put on the three-woman Olympic team, due to merit from previous years, the next day. But it was a stressful night’s wait, and many fans disagreed with U.S. Figure Skating’s decision.

Sochi didn’t go as planned either. She became a meme in the team event and was seventh individually, after making top five at worlds the previous two years.

Wagner opened this fall with a third-place finish at Skate Canada three weeks ago. Her score ranks 25th among all women among the four Grand Prix series events thus far, but it’s early. The Olympics are in three months.

“The only reason why I signed on for four more years in the sport is because I think I’m capable of getting an individual medal,” she said when asked to rate her medal chances after Skate Canada. “How I skated at Skate Canada isn’t going to get me a medal, but also Skate Canada isn’t the bar that I’m setting for myself at the Olympics. I will be better. I will be prepared.”

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Federica Brignone passes Mikaela Shiffrin for World Cup overall lead

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Italian Federica Brignone passed an absent Mikaela Shiffrin for the World Cup overall standings lead by winning a combined in Switzerland on Sunday.

Brignone prevailed by .92 of a second adding times from super-G and slalom runs in Crans-Montana. Full results are here.

Brignone moved 73 points ahead of Shiffrin in the overall through 29 of 40 scheduled races. A race winner receives 100 points on a descending scale through the 30th-place finisher. The season runs through March 22.

Shiffrin, the three-time reigning World Cup overall champion, has not competed since the unexpected death of her father on Feb. 2. She has not announced if or when she will return this season.

Brignone, 29, is having a career season with five wins and 10 podiums across four disciplines.

Brignone’s best previous World Cup overall standings finish was fifth. She earned giant slalom medals at the 2018 Olympics (bronze) and 2011 World Championships (silver).

She could become Italy’s first female World Cup overall champion. The last Italian male winner was Alberto Tomba in 1995.

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves to La Thuile, Italy, for a super-G and a combined next Saturday and Sunday.

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Jade Carey on brink of becoming first gymnast to qualify for U.S. Olympic team

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The U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials aren’t until late June, but Jade Carey is in position to qualify for the Tokyo Games in March.

Carey, seeking an individual Olympic gymnastics spot outside of the team competition, earned the maximum points in a World Cup series that is one path to Olympic qualification.

Carey has three wins each on floor exercise and vault with two World Cups left in March. Carey will mathematically clinch an Olympic spot if no other gymnasts earn maximum points on one of the apparatuses to force a tiebreaker.

A gymnast’s top three finishes across the eight-stop series count in Olympic qualifying. If Carey finishes atop the floor or vault standings, she goes to the Olympics.

Carey picked up those third wins on floor and vault at the sixth World Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this weekend.

So far, no other gymnast has two wins on floor. One other gymnast can get to the maximum points on vault with one win between the last two stops (and others with two).

The one downside to qualifying this route: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four spots will be determined at and after June’s trials in St. Louis, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.

“I knew I would be giving up being on the team,” Carey said in October of going the World Cup route, “but I think, for me, it made sense to just go for it.”

Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but she doesn’t have the all-around credentials of Biles and some other U.S. gymnasts.

Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.

The U.S. is the deepest country in women’s gymnastics, so the only truly safe pick to make the four-woman Olympic team event roster is Biles.

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