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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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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