Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wagner looks for any edge in fierce US competition

Ashley Wagner is looking for any edge she can get.

Wagner was the lone American to qualify for this weekend's Grand Prix final in Tokyo. While that meant yet another long flight, jet lag and more time away from home, the 18-year-old couldn't wait. The United States has only two spots for the Vancouver Olympics and a half-dozen women who could get them, so any opportunity to perform her programs in competition before next month's national championships can only help.

"Also, it's a really great experience because I'll be competing against the girls that are going to be at the Olympics," Wagner said. "I feel that's going to give me a little bit of an advantage over the other American girls."

Wagner was last in Friday's short program. The free skate was Saturday.

Despite finishing third at the 2008 U.S. championships and winning two bronze medals at the junior world championships, Wagner barely got any mention coming into the all-important Olympic season. Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen was coming back, Rachael Flatt had finished fifth at her first senior worlds, and former national champ Mirai Nagasu was rejuvenated after switching to coach Frank Carroll.

But it's Wagner who's been the best of the bunch so far, medaling at both of her Grand Prix events.

"I just wanted to be out there having fun," she said. "I wasn't very happy with my year last year. Obviously it was decent, but it wasn't my best. I wasn't skating for myself, I wasn't out there skating to skate. I was skating to reach other people's expectations."

Wagner switched last season to Priscilla Hill, Johnny Weir's former coach. Though some wondered about the move -- she seemed to be progressing quite nicely under former coach Shirley Hughes -- Wagner knew she needed more to have any chance at joining the world's elite.

She had the jumps. But figure skating is a blend of athleticism and artistry, particularly under the current judging system.

Hill improved Wagner's technique on her spins, and gave her some serious art-titude -- so much so that she won the free skate at last year's nationals with her dazzling "Spartacus" program. Wagner wound up fourth, an impressive finish considering she was 12th after the short program.

"She's been able to make my skating so much more well-rounded," Wagner said of Hill. "She has completely flipped my skating around. Not to say I'm not grateful about what my other coaches have given me because they got me to where I was when I came to Priscilla. But she's really just been the icing on the cake."

"It might be a while before I reach that perfect level of skating I want to reach," Wagner added. "For now, though, I think we're improving and things are going pretty well."

No comments: