American figure skater Ashley Wagner caught a break by being selected to the U.S. national team that will represent the country in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Wagner, 22, fell twice on Saturday, Jan. 11, during a free skate at Boston's TD Garden in the U.S. Championships, putting her status as an Olympian in doubt.
With the tears she shed and the uninspiring performance in the marquee competition, some felt that Mirai Nagasu, who finished with the bronze medal, was more deserving of a bid to the figure skating team.
In the end, Wagner's resume and past success won out, and she was grateful for the opportunity:
Wagner went into more depth about her struggles and what she was feeling at the time, per The Washington Post's Liz Clarke:
When I look back on my career, this one horrible performance isn’t what makes me the skater I am. That doesn’t define me. U.S. Figure Skating has given me the opportunity to go into the Olympics and make everybody forget about this performance, which I am fully prepared and very excited to do.
Unlike most countries, as Clarke points out, the U.S. selection committee doesn't determine its Olympic figure skaters based on one qualifying event, but rather on what the athlete has done in the past year.
Otherwise, Nagasu's third-place finish compared to Wagner's fourth would have given her the spot, since only three figure skaters are chosen to represent the USA in Sochi.
U.S. Figure Skating president Patricia St. Peter weighed in after the decision was made, coming to Wagner's defense, per the Boston Globe's John Powers.
"You look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she’s got the top credentials of any of our female athletes,” said St. Peter. “It’s an objective analysis."
If this unforeseen setback is making Wagner nervous, she isn't showing it publicly and believes her mettle will be better when she's chasing a medal in Sochi, per Clarke:
I can really let myself skate. Instead of having to worry about whether or not I’m literally going to watch my dreams fall apart, which last night I got a pretty good preview of. I danced with danger last night. I never want to feel that uncomfortable again.
For the sake of the committee's selection, Wagner must live up to her word. Despite the controversy involved in this decision, it doesn't come without merit since Wagner does have an impressive list of accomplishments.
Wagner won back-to-back U.S. figure skating championships in 2012 and 2013—the first American skater to capture multiple titles since Michelle Kwan. Writing her off after one bad performance would have been too big a loss to speculate about given the level of talent she has displayed in the past.
A fall in the 2010 U.S. championships cost Wagner a spot in the Vancouver Games, but she has sharpened her skills on the ice since then. Placing fourth and fifth in the previous two world championships, per TeamUSA.org, also helped Wagner's cause.
This was a shocking, rapid wilting under the bright lights of Boston, especially with 15-year-old Polina Edmunds faring fine in second and Gracie Gold dominating with the gold. But Wagner was glad her selection committee was behind her, via Powers.
"I’m happy that my federation was able to see beyond one bad skate," said Wagner.
Whatever blocked Wagner from being at her best on Saturday must be remedied in order for her to redeem an outing that has many decrying her prestigious distinction as an Olympian.