Ashley Wagner Prepares to Prove Her Critics Wrong in Sochi

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2014

Ashley Wagner of the United States waves to spectators as she waits for her results after competing in the women's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Ashley Wagner doesn't care if you don't think she belongs on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team in Sochi.

Though she was widely criticized for her performance at the U.S. Championships in Boston last month, she was still the discretionary selection of U.S. Figure Skating, the organization charged with picking all Olympic skaters. That decision was widely based on her long-term body of work and not her fourth-place finish in Boston.

She has put that performance behind her and had an error-free skate in the women's short program of the team figure skating medal event. Wagner may have stumbled in Boston and slid across the ice, but she kept her feet in Sochi.

Wagner was not thrilled with the 63.10 score that judges gave her, which left her in fourth place among the women competing in the short program. However, she was pleased with her performance and will use that as a jumping off point when she competes in the women's individual skating championship at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi during the second week of Olympic competition.

"I'm here," Wagner told Elliott Almond of the San Jose Mercury News. "I'm here to compete. Get used to it."

That's pretty much the nature of Wagner's personality. The day after she struggled in Boston, she was named to the U.S. Olympic team. She knew her selection was controversial and looked almost apologetic as she tried to explain how much going to Sochi meant to her.

However, less than a month later, she is anything but apologetic.

She is a fiery competitor who has been stoked to skate in the Olympics ever since she failed to make the team in 2010. She has won two U.S. Championships since then. She has also brought home gold in the 2011-12 Four Continents event and has also won gold in three grands prix.

That's a solid body of work for the 22-year-old former Army brat, who now calls California her home. Mirai Nagasu may have gotten the best of her at the U.S. Championships, but she did not have a comparable record over the long haul.

Wagner's reaction to her score in the short program was indicative of a skater who believes she can contend and wasn't treated properly by the judges. 

"I know roughly when I skate a good program where the score should end up," Wagner said, via Almond. "So, yeah to score that low was very disappointing for me. I wanted to do everything I could to help out the team, and I really feel that I delivered on that part."

Wagner's next appearance will come in the women's individual figure skating event. She will face demanding competition from South Korea's Kim Yuna, Japan's Mao Asada, Russia's Yulia Lipnitskaya and her own teammate, Gracie Gold.

Wagner is not considered a medal favorite.

However, judges are not supposed to grade based on their previous impressions of the skaters. They are supposed to judge based on the performance they see on the ice.

Wagner does not believe she was graded fairly in the short program of the team event.

She can only hope to get a better shake in the individual event and find a way to skate a clean program that includes hitting all of her jumps without any hesitation.

If she can do that, she just may find herself in medal contention and find one more way to quiet her critics.