The collective voice of Ashley Wagner's critics can fall silent after her strong showing in the team short program on Day 1 of the 2014 Winter Games.
Wagner ensured the U.S. remained in the top five of the team portion and would advance to the final round in Sochi, Russia, via a spectacular set to Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” which gave her a total segment score of 63.10.
The score was good for fourth place and seven points for the United States. Following Meryl Davis and Charlie White's first-place finish in the team short dance, Wagner put an exclamation point on the day for her country.
It was much needed for Wagner, who was the subject of much scrutiny entering the games, as some believed she did not even deserve to participate, as Nancy Armour of USA Today pointed out before the Games:
Wagner has the best international resume of any of the U.S. women over the last two years. She won a medal at the Grand Prix final for the second consecutive year, and her fifth-place finish at last year's world championships help secure a third spot in Sochi for the U.S. women.
But she finished fourth at last month's U.S. championships, and her struggles threatened her spot in Sochi. U.S. Figure Skating officials selected her over Mirai Nagasu, citing her consistency internationally.
Any doubts about Wagner's participation are surely gone. Armour and fellow USA Today scribe Christine Brennan put it best after her stellar outing:
Not greatest program she's ever done, but this is why Ashley Wagner is on the Olympic team. She delivered when US needed her to— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) February 8, 2014
A very happy @AshWagner2010 has just skated a clean program. And that's why you put her on the US Olympic team, folks!— Christine Brennan (@cbrennansports) February 8, 2014
Best of all, Wagner now has her confidence back and has plenty of time to improve on her program before the individual competitions. She said as much after her run, via NBC's Nick McCarvel:
"The scores not quite what I wanted it to be, but Im happy w/ what I put out there," Wagner says in mixed zone. Lipnitskaya now #Sochi2014— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) February 8, 2014
Japan's Mao Asada, who entered Sochi as one of the favorites for gold, finished just .97 points in front of Wagner for third place, primarily because she fell on a triple-axel attempt.
While there is much debate to be had about whether or not Wagner and her flawless program should have finished behind one in which Asada fell, it should still help to give Wagner a confidence boost—not to mention motivation—as the playing field is decidedly close on an individual basis through one day.
Wagner still has plenty of work to do in the grand scheme of the games, especially with her seemingly taking a backseat to fellow American Gracie Gold, but she is off to a solid start that helped to keep the United States in medal contention.
International success was cited as the reason for Wagner's selection despite a poor performance leading up to the Games. On Saturday, Wagner validated her participation in a performance that can lead to even greater things outside of a medal for the United States in the team portion of the event.
Note: All info courtesy of Sochi2014.com, unless otherwise noted.