Skater Ashley Wagner makes Olympic team despite falls at nationals
Two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner made the three-woman Olympic team despite finishing fourth at nationals in a showing she described as a “tearful little wimp out on the ice.” She spent part of her childhood in Washington.
The Associated Press and The New York Times
Countdown to Winter Olympics
When: Opening ceremony is Feb. 7, though skating begins Feb. 6. Where: Sochi, Russia.
BOSTON – The names on the U.S. Olympic figure-skating team were still supposed to be a secret, so Ashley Wagner slipped under the stands to cry.
Hours after a performance she described as a “tearful little wimp out on the ice,” the two-time national champion was picked to go to the Sochi Games.
The 22-year-old finished a distant fourth at the U.S. Championships on Saturday night, and three American women make the Olympics. But this event isn’t the only factor U.S. Figure Skating takes into account.
“If you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she’s got the top credentials of any of our female athletes,” said the organization’s president, Patricia St. Peter.
Thus the third-place finisher at nationals, Mirai Nagasu, was passed over Sunday. Fifteen-year-old Polina Edmunds, who was second, was selected even though she has not competed in an international senior event. Gracie Gold, 18, of Springfield, Ill., was a virtual lock to make the team after winning the national title.
Nagasu was fourth at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., as a 16-year-old. But U.S. Figure Skating’s selection guidelines consider only the past year, and Nagasu had mostly struggled until a resurgent performance at nationals.
Nagasu appeared as scheduled for her performance in the Sunday-night exhibition that typically follows major events. Her eyes welled up as she took her spot on the ice, and the crowd rose to its feet as she choked back sobs.
Nagasu inquired about the appeals process. In a statement, she said, “I’m disappointed in the decision. Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made.”
Wagner trains in Aliso Viejo, Calif. She was raised in a military family and spent some of her childhood in Vancouver, Wash., and in Pierce County. Many of her vacations have been spent with relatives in Seabeck, Kitsap County.
After multiple falls Saturday, Wagner called her performance embarrassing.
On Sunday, she said, “I’m so incredibly honored to be named to this team. I am grateful that my federation was able to look beyond one really bad performance and see that athlete that I’m capable of being.”
U.S. Figure Skating does take into account the technical difficulty of skaters’ programs, and that might have been what secured Edmunds’ spot on the team.
“Even though it is my senior debut, I think I am senior level, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a debut or not,” she said.
Edmunds knew she would have more Olympic opportunities in her future, but Sochi is special. Her mother, who helps coach her, is from Russia.
There was little chance Wagner was going to sleep Saturday night. She video-chatted with friends, had a big glass of wine with her mother and brother and watched the movie “The Seven Year Itch.”
And Wagner accepted she might narrowly miss making the Olympic team for the second straight Games, prepared to train through 2018.
“I danced with danger last night,” she said. “I never want to feel that uncomfortable again.”
Wagner was watching a friend practice Sunday when she got the text message she was on the team.
“It has been a really long four years,” she said later, her voice cracking.
Abbott wins 4th men’s national title
BOSTON – Jeremy Abbott was reminding himself to feel his legs, the pressure of the moment weighing down on him.
Then he heard the chants from the crowd: “5... 4... 3...” Abbott hurried to the center of the ice, and when his music started just before the countdown clock expired, he thought, “Thank God I’m not disqualified.”
Better than that: He is a four-time U.S. champion and a repeat Olympian.
Abbott steeled himself through the nerves in his free skate Sunday to win at his final nationals. Jason Brown, 19, was second, earning the U.S. men’s other spot in Sochi.
For a skater who has turned in some brilliant performances at this event, Abbott’s program was far from his best — but more than enough.
“It wasn’t a perfect skate, but, God, I enjoyed every moment of it,” he said.
Defending champion Max Aaron was third. The top-two finishers didn’t automatically qualify for the Olympics, but U.S. Figure Skating officials stuck with the standings in picking the team later Sunday.
Since winning his last U.S. title two years ago, the 28-year-old Abbott had struggled as he overhauled his training regimen. But a superb short program Friday put him back on top in his last season before retiring.
“Because the short program was so magical, I knew that he was going to have a little bit of a struggle,” said his coach, Yuka Sato.
Abbott fought to land a few jumps and reduced the rotation on a couple of others; the only truly shaky moment, though, came before he even began. Abbott later thanked the fans for their countdown assist.
“I’ve never cut it that close before,” he said.