Ashley Wagner sent an unmistakable message to her doubters during this weekend's team figure skating competition: Don't write her off just yet!
The top-ranked female American figure skater almost missed out on her chance to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics after she faltered at the U.S. national championships in January. Despite her fourth-place finish, the Olympic selection committee stood behind their chosen one, granting her one of three berths in ladies' singles.
As new U.S. champion Gracie Gold started making the rounds, launching her own bid to become America's sweetheart, Wagner was all but forgotten—until she stepped on the ice to skate her short program in the new team event on Saturday.
With her U.S. team on the brink of missing the cutoff for the event finals, Wagner skated an artistic, clean program that brimmed with confidence. Gone was the tentativeness of nationals, when the pressure weighed her down. By program's end, she was free!
Ashley's face told a different story when she received the judges' marks after her skate.
Much has been made of her reaction, but it reflects a fierceness that should serve her well when the individual competition gets underway next week. She did more than enough to advance the U.S. team, but Wagner felt she deserved validation for her program and how she performed it.
“I know what I’m capable of and what this program is capable of,” Wagner told Mary Pilon of The New York Times. “I don’t agree with the marks, but that’s what the individual event is for.”
It may have been the politically correct response at the time, but you can bet that Wagner was feeling a whole lot better about the situation when she collected her Olympic bronze medal after Sunday's team event.
Wagner's Olympic experience so far has put her in perfect position to skate her best programs in the singles competition, which starts Feb. 19. Her impressive recovery from the disappointment at nationals shows her resilience and determination. She's worked hard to live up to the faith that's been placed in her by the Olympic selection committee and has a chance to make a definitive statement in her solo event.
"We got to get onto the ice and figure out how Olympic ice feels. We have that upper hand, we know what to expect, we know what it will feel like," Wagner told Mickey Brown of icenetwork.com. "As soon as we hit that first pose [in our short programs] and the music starts up, we'll know how to deal with it."
Wagner has also been part of a unique figure skating experience alongside the rest of her U.S. team. She and Gold were able to set aside their rivalry during the team competition, working side by side to deliver the points required for a medal. Both will benefit immeasurably from the leadership of team captain and ice dancing world champion Charlie White.
Wagner and Gold have both had big success on the world stage. Wagner placed fifth in the 2013 World Championships—a big part of the reason why the selection committee fought for her—while Gold was sixth. Once again, from icenetwork.com:
"[Gracie and I are] different skaters, but we work really well together," said Wagner, who reminded everyone that it was she and Gold who qualified three ladies spots at these Olympics with their combined finishes at the 2013 World Championships. "We showed our strengths in the team event. It showed we have a nice blend, a nice mix."
Wagner has fought her way back, but hasn't lost sight of her true goal—success in the singles event. She appears poised to show her very best next week at the Iceberg Skating Palace.