Ashley Wagner entered the 2014 Winter Olympics as an underdog—somebody that critics loved to hate on.
Her critics continually cited the fact that she fell multiple times and finished in fourth place at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston as reasons why she wouldn't succeed on the biggest stage of her career. She's already doing a great job of proving them wrong.
Jim Caple of ESPN.com provides a nice breakdown of her performance on Saturday and its implications moving forward:
Given that so many critics felt she shouldn't have been on the team, Wagner was actually under a great deal of pressure, but she handled it just fine. She skated a solid routine in Saturday's short program, landing all her jumps and sending the U.S. to the medal round in the new team competition. She finished fourth with a score of 63.10, just behind Japan's Mao Asada, who fell in her routine.
Of course, that score of 63.10 was not what Wagner was expecting. Her reaction was priceless:
On her dispute of the score, Wagner had this to say, via Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports: "I know roughly when I skate a good program where the score should end up. So to score that low was very disappointing. I was hoping to score around somewhere close to my personal best (69.26)."
Wagner performed quite well, despite the score. That being said, NBC Sports is reporting that 18-year-old sensation Gracie Gold will skate with Meryl Davis and Charlie White for the United States in the team figure skating final.
Wagner will still be competing in individual events later on, and her initial performance will be what gives her the confidence to continue her success. Even if she doesn't come close to her personal best, Wagner has the pure ability to skate and post strong scores.
Nancy Armour of USA Today is a staunch supporter of Wagner's efforts:
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
Wagner has proven to be comfortable with performing her best routines. She did just that with her performance to Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," and she'll likely continue to do that in future events.
Will Wagner medal in an individual event?
Being comfortable on ice is key on such a large stage. The fact that she's an experienced international competitor works to her advantage in that regard. The bright lights won't get to her in Sochi.
That being said, she'll need to be careful to not let the negative emotions from her disappointment haunt her moving forward. If she tries to hard to be perfect in the eyes of the judges, she could ultimately falter.
Instead, Wagner will need to turn that into positive energy. She must let it motivate her to perform well in individual competition. And she certainly has the ability to do so judging by her post-performance comments.
After all, there's a reason Wagner is considered a medal favorite for Team USA.