American figure skater Ashley Wagner's pursuit of an individual medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, began on Wednesday with the women's short program. With the free program on the horizon, Wagner currently sits in 6th place after a score of 65.21.
|1||Yuna Kim||South Korea||74.92|
|4||Gracie Gold||United States||68.63|
|6||Ashley Wagner||United States||65.21|
|7||Polina Edmunds||United States||61.04|
|9||Mae Berenice Meite||France||58.63|
To give contest to Wagner's performance, the American sits behind Russia's Julia Lipnitskaya, who fell during her short program, as Juilet Macur of the New York Times notes:
Ashley Wagner, who didn't fall on any jump, scores 65.21 and is in 5th. She's just behind Julia Lipnitskaya, who bit it on her triple flip.— Juliet Macur (@JulietMacur) February 19, 2014
Regardless of what happens in the free skate on Thursday, Wagner will leave Sochi with a medal in tow. Wagner was part of the United States' bronze-medal-winning effort in the first ever Olympic team event as she finished fourth among 10 skaters in the short program.
There were plenty of question marks regarding Wagner's spot on Team USA heading into the Olympics. The 22-year-old won gold in women's singles at the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but she struggled mightily at the 2014 event.
An uncharacteristically poor showing landed Wagner in fourth place, but the decision was made to put Wagner on Team USA ahead of Mirai Nagasu despite what happened at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Wagner's body of work ruled the day, and she has been the subject of some criticism because of that.
Wagner proved her worth in the women's short program during the team competition, although she wasn't particularly happy with what she perceived to be a low score. Wagner's skate was given a 63.10, which put her roughly one point behind Japan's Mao Asada.
Just like American gymnast McKayla Maroney at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Wagner became somewhat of an Internet phenomenon due to her unfiltered reaction, as seen in this photo courtesy of Today on Twitter:
Following that performance, Wagner revealed that she felt as though she was shortchanged by the judges by approximately six points, according to 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).
Even though Wagner didn't receive the score she desired in the team event, she still came away from her skate feeling confident. As Wagner put it on Twitter, she proved that she belonged on Team USA:
Ecstatic about that short program tonight! I. Belong. Here. Great job team! #Sochi2014— Ashley Wagner (@AshWagner2010) February 8, 2014
One thing that nobody can question about Wagner is her desire to succeed. Wagner clearly wants to show herself and her detractors that she is capable of doing big things on the Olympic stage, and that is something two-time Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko admires greatly:
Now that Wagner's individual short program is in the books, she has a big free skate ahead of her. Wagner hasn't had the benefit of practicing her free skate on the Olympic stage since American teammate Gracie Gold handled that discipline in the team event, but she has the potential to put up a big number.
How will Ashley Wagner fare in the women's singles figure skating event?
According to Sochi2014.com, Wagner's personal best in the free program is a 128.83 at the World Team Trophy in April 2013. For comparison's sake, Gold scored 129.38 in the free skate during the Olympic team competition, while Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia racked up a 141.51 in a nearly flawless performance, so Wagner has her work cut out for her.
Finishing on the podium will definitely be a challenge considering the level of competition that Wagner is facing, but much of the pressure that she carried with her into the Olympics has dissipated.
That is partly due to the fact that she has already won bronze along with the focus shifting noticeably toward Gold. It can be argued that Wagner is now sneaking in under the radar, which is the perfect spot for her after so much turmoil and controversy.
If Wagner enters the free skate feeling loose and anxiety free, then the sky is the limit for her performance.
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