Wagner tops strong day for Americans
With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games 16 months away, a group of American skaters reinforced their candidacy to represent the United States with practically glitch-free performances Sunday on the final day of Skate America at ShoWare Center.
Special to The Seattle Times
KENT — With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games 16 months away, a group of American skaters reinforced their candidacy to represent the United States with practically glitch-free performances Sunday on the final day of Skate America at ShoWare Center.
Ashley Wagner, who spent a few preteen years in Tacoma and Vancouver, Wash., as part of a military family, skated a superb long program to easily win the ladies singles gold medal with 188.37 points, followed in second place by an ascending American talent, Christina Gao (174.25).
The one-two U.S. finish marks the first time two American women skaters have taken the top two spots in a Grand Prix event since 2003.
In ice dancing, the U.S. team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, silver medalists at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C., used an evocative program based on the story of Quasimodo and Esmeralda ("Hunchback of Notre Dame") to cruise to first place with a total of 176.28 points.
Skate America is the first step in a weekly, six-stage international skating series that culminates with the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Finals Dec. 6-9 in Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Grand Prix events don't have the luster of the U.S. Championships (late January) or Worlds (mid-March), but Sunday's results provide useful status updates for skaters with Olympic-size ambitions.
"Today went exactly as planned," said Wagner, 21, who skated to Camille Saint-Seans' "Samson and Delilah."
"I really fought for some of those jumps, but I was pleased with what I put out. For my first Grand Prix gold medal, it's a good day for me."
Wagner barely missed qualifying for the 2010 Winter Olympics and also just missed qualifying for two Worlds, leading her to once dub herself the "almost girl."
"I honestly think I only said it once but everybody heard it and latched onto it," she said, using her hands to make claw gestures.
"It's certainly how I've felt in years past. I feel now I can let that go."
A glittering performance by 18-year-old Gao and the disappointing outing by Russia's Alena Leonova — the 2010 Olympian and silver medalist at the 2012 Worlds placed seventh place in ladies singles — were the surprise outcomes of Sunday's competition.
Last year, Gao contemplated dropping skating to focus on her freshman year at Harvard. Ultimately she elected to take on both.
"After last season. I went home and didn't skate for a little bit and thought, 'no, I'll just go to school and that's it,' " she said. "But toward the end of summer there was some point when I was like, 'OK, I'm going to commit myself to skating and going to school.' I just went full force and never looked back."
With their win in ice dancing, Davis and White — both 25 and natives of a Detroit suburb who have been skating partners for 16 years and are the only American ice dancers to win gold at Worlds (2011) — figure they're on target for a return to the Olympics.
"We wanted to focus on the emotional impact (of the routine), the connection between us and showing how much we've grown in the offseason," said White, who is not romantically linked to Davis. "We've always really been known for our athletic ability and our power. We really wanted to highlight the fact that we're closer than ever on and off the ice."
Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia placed second (159.95) and Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje took third (157.32).
In ladies singles, Russia's 16-year-old Adelina Sotnikova was third (168.96).
Rachael Flatt, a 2010 U.S. Olympian hampered by a lingering ankle injury, placed ninth in ladies singles.
"The last week has been pretty rough with my ankle," she said. "I'm hoping we can figure out what's going on with this injury because it just really has not healed over the last two years fully. I think we're probably going to have it reimaged and go from there.
"We just haven't seen anything (in tests) in the past and it's been incredibly frustrating. We'll see what happens."