Friday, July 26, 2013

Ashley Wagner, on the edge of greatness

U.S. skating star aims for Sochi Olympics


Ashley Wagner, who headlines the Aug. 3 Sun Valley Ice Show, proudly displays her U.S. national championship gold medal. Courtesy photo by Getty Images

Ashley Wagner’s turn on Sun Valley center ice Saturday, Aug. 3 marks one of the last opportunities the skater will have for a while to do something she loves: simply perform.
    In just a few months, her high-stakes competition season kicks off. With her sights set firmly on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games that begin next February, this two-time National Champion is using her midsummer’s sojourn to Sun Valley as a mini-vacation.
    “I love being in the mountains and I plan to do some hiking,” she said. “Last year I went to nearby hot springs which was amazing.”
    During a phone interview the dynamic, driven and very together 22-year-old said, “Sun Valley is a skater’s paradise. I am so excited to be back for the second year. In Sun Valley there’s no pressure, no television broadcast, no judges. I love to perform and to connect with an audience and there’s no better place to do that than under the stars on Sun Valley’s outdoor rink!”
    The audience is certain to see Wagner’s passion for her sport shine as bright as the stars overhead.
    The 2012 and 2013 U.S. National champion, 2012 Four Continents champion, a two-time U.S. bronze medalist and two-time Junior World bronze medalist, Wagner is a consummate performer and a gifted athlete. She was the first U.S. ladies’ single skater to win consecutive national titles since Michelle Kwan did so in 2005.
    As beautiful as she is accomplished, Wagner is captivating on ice. In the past few years, the girl has transformed into a young woman, and her show programs have become a bit edgier and more mature, set to music from Pink Floyd to the Eurythmics.
    Technically, Ashley is also breathtaking. She is currently working to make her triple flip, triple toe jump combination (what she simply calls her ‘triple/triple’) consistent for upcoming competitions. Her famous ‘death drop,’ a jump into a sit spin, also dazzles.
    Lyrical, powerful and expressive on the ice, she is still deciding what programs to bring to the Sun Valley audience.
    “I may do my new short program, but I may also choose two of my favorite show programs,” she said. “I haven’t quite decided.”
    Wagner recently began to work with a new coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, who is known as a superb technician. And at Wagner’s level, tiny imperfections in technique can mean the difference between a podium and going home empty-handed.
    “In order to be competitive you need that triple/triple,” Wagner explained. “Rafael is the perfect coach for me at this point in my training and my career to help me be as prepared as possible for this important coming season.”
    Wagner also trains with the legendary John Nicks whose students have included Peggy Fleming, Kristi Yamaguchi and Sasha Cohen.
    An alternate for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Wagner has had her big eyes on the big show for four years. Right now, though, she laughed, she is taking it “one day and one competition at a time.”
    Her season begins in early October and includes two International Skating Union Grand Prix events, followed by, fingers crossed, a qualification for the Grand Prix Finals in December in Japan. Then it is on to Nationals in January where the skaters who will represent the United States in the Olympics will be selected.
    On, the website for aspiring Olympians, Wagner said, “My dream is to be an Olympian and the best things in life you really have to work for. I don’t ever want to feel I left anything on the table.”
    She does work hard.
    Because of Wagner’s outstanding performance at the World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, last March, she, along with teammate Gracie Gold, secured a coveted third berth for U.S. women skaters at the Sochi Games.
    This gives skaters including Alissa Czisny, Christina Gao, Courtney Hicks, Mirai Nagasu and Agnes Zawadzki, as well as Wagner and Gold, a chance to secure a spot in the Olympic spotlight when they compete next January at the U.S. Nationals in Boston.
    “It was huge for Gracie and me to get three spots for the Olympic team,” Wagner enthused. “I was really proud of how we both skated and that we could help other members of the team along.”
    Olympic hopeful Zawadzki, nearly 19, is following in Wagner’s footwork in other ways, too. She will also make a stop in Sun Valley before focusing her energies on that crucial January competition.
    Sharing billing with Surya Bonaly in Sun Valley on Ice July 27, Zawadzki will bring her signature triple Lutz and theatricality to the arena. Zawadzki, the 2010 National Junior Champion, two-time World Junior Medalist, 2011 Pewter Medalist and 2012 and 2013 Bronze Medalist, is also at the top of her game.
    But soon it will be back to intense training for the skaters.
    Wagner said she will quickly return to an extremely disciplined routine that includes not only hours a day on the ice, but yoga, running and Plyometrics. As she said, she doesn’t want to leave anything on the table; she has sacrificed too much and worked way too hard.
    To the hundreds of young figure skaters who competed in the Sun Valley Summer Championships last weekend, Wagner, who began skating at the age of five, offered simple advice.
    “When I step onto the ice, I remind myself, ‘it’s just skating,’” she explained. “It is really easy to get wrapped up in everything that surrounds the sport, but it’s just skating. I am happy to be at the rink. I am happy to be on the ice. I love to skate.”

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