You have to admire Ashley’s strength and perseverance – after all, she’s been the most consistent American lady in recent years: with her victories in 2012 and 2013, Wagner was the first U.S. ladies’ single skater to win consecutive national titles since Michelle Kwan in 2005. And, as Kwan, she managed to qualify for three consecutive Grand Prix Finals, winning three medals in the process: silver in Sochi (2012), bronze in Fukuoka (2013) and again bronze, a month ago, in Barcelona; and, in between, 11 medals in the senior Grand Prix circuit, the Four Continents title in 2012 and an Olympic bronze medal in the team event in Sochi, last February. Quite an impressive record for the American skater born in Heidelberg, Germany, 23 years ago – but Ashley Wagner is not ready yet to call it quits. She’s not even ready to take a year off as some of the other ladies have done: “Being at that level is hard on the body, is hard emotionally, and so I can understand why they take the year off. But a lot of them have been World champions and at the top of the top of the top and I am still not there yet. I don’t have the time to take a year off”. For Ashley Wagner, the show must (and will) go on.
by Florentina Tone
“I’m not that young anymore, I’m almost 16”, says, in all seriousness, the Russian Elena Radionova during the press conference after the ladies’ free skate in Barcelona – and Ashley Wagner can’t help but add with a smile: “That makes me look like a great grandma”. The girls are laughing, the journalists laugh too, but this particular line, amusing only in appearance, shows how much does this 23-year-old American lady have to do in order to stay competitive with the new wave of figure skaters, younger and technically very strong. This was Ashley’s third (consecutive) Grand Prix Final – and she knew from the beginning she’d have to put up a serious fight with the Russians Elena Radionova (15), Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (17), Anna Pogorilaya (16), Julia Lipnitskaia (16) and the surprise winner of the Rostelecom Cup, the 18-year-old Japanese Rika Hongo.
At the end of the ladies’ short program in Barcelona, one might have said she’d already lost the fight. Skating to music from Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus, Ashley showed an artistically impressive performance, but failed to do the same when it came to the technical content: stepping out of her triple Flip, she was forced to abandon the triple Flip-triple Toe combination and only managed a shaky triple Loop-double Toe later in the program. With 60.24 points, Ashley finished this particular segment of the event on the last place and, talking to the journalists minutes after her program, one could easily sense her disappointment (though it was very well disguised in her efforts to take the good parts of her performance): “My program today just shows how much you need a triple-triple combination to be competitive at this level. My spins and footwork saved the day for me, my second mark was high and that’s the positive I can take away. These younger girls are so strong technically and I’ve got them on the second mark, but I’ve got to have the triple-triple to get them”.
“To come from last place to the podium is a huge accomplishment”
Two days later, during the free skate, Ashley’s triple jumps seemed to be all in their place: skating to music from the “Moulin Rouge!“ soundtrack, the 23-year-old American landed that triple Flip-triple Toe, four other clean triples and earned a level four for the flying sit-spin; not to mention her courageous attempt to land a triple Loop-half Loop-triple Salchow. It was an (almost) perfect skate for Ashley, which brought her on the third place, with an overall score of 189.50 points. A season best for her free skate (129.26 points) – and a burst of enthusiasm when seeing the scores. “Today was huge for me, to come from last place to the podium is a huge accomplishment, especially against the best girls in world. By the time I get to Nationals I just have to figure out how to put together two clean programs, because, although this free went well, this competition as a whole was little wonky. The free program was good, but the short program is something I don’t ever want to think of again”.
Asked whether she considered taking a year off this season, Ashley said it loud and clear: “I’ve been competing at seniors from 15 years old and I know a lot of the girls I came up with did the same. It’s exhausting and it’s years and years of fighting. I understand why they take a year off; being at that level is hard on the body, is hard emotionally. But a lot of them have been World champions and at the top of the top of the top and I am still not there yet. I have so much work to do to be a podium contender for Worlds that I don’t have time to take a year off”. With this in mind, one could easily understand Ashley’s previous statement, in the mixed zone, after her free program: “I’ve got to be able to skate like that at Nationals, because I don’t want to miss out on the World Championships”.
„At the end of the day the show must go on“
From where I stand, it was redemption time for Ashley Wagner in Barcelona. After a very tough Olympic season – with Ashley on the verge of missing for the second time the Olympic experience, after her fourth place at U.S. Nationals; and the huge controversy stirred by the decision to name her in the team instead of the third place winner, Mirai Nagasu – and after her seeming decline in the rankings (4th at 2012 Worlds, 5th in 2013, 7th last year), the American lady needed to erase everything and start from scratch; if, indeed, she was committed to take the path to 2018 PyeongChang.
And she did just that, starting the post-Olympic season with a silver at Skate Canada, a bronze at Trophée Eric Bompard (her third consecutive medal at the French Grand Prix) and a bronze in Barcelona, in her fourth (and third consecutive) Grand Prix Final. And, challenging herself with the thought of a second Olympics, Ashley chose to skate a program with a message, a program she related to right away; the music comes from the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack and the tunes are more than telling: “One day I’ll fly away” and “The Show Must Go On”. I’ll leave it to Ashley to explain: “My choreographer [Shae-Lynn Bourne choreographed the free program] suggested it to me and she put together [the music] – and I think that I related to it right away, because it speaks very much to how my career has gone… This crazy world of skating is so big and it’s something that I love so much, and it’s hard to get away from it, because it’s always that pole and I would always want to perform. And there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day the show must go on. I’m 23 and going after an Olympic podium, that’s my dream, and even though it’s difficult I still have to keep on pushing, so I think that’s why the music speaks so clearly to me“.
Take Ashley’s continuous Olympic struggle – it was hard for her to lose the team in 2010, but it was equally hard to defend her place in the team in 2014, take her efforts to make the best professional choices, moving across the country for her skating to mature, take her terrible full-body muscle spasms during 2010-2011 season, a year of „absolute insanity“, as Ashley herself described it, take her courageous recovery from a serious fall during the free program in Sochi, at the 2012 Grand Prix Final, winning the silver medal in the end – and you’ll understand she is indeed a fighter, you’ll understand that „The Show Must Go On“ is not just a refrain; it’s her life, her career. Need more proof of her determination? On January 1, Ashley wrote on Instagram: „Thank you 2014 for being the year that my dreams came true, but, more importantly, for being the year that gave me the skills I needed to take 2015 by storm. Watch out everyone, I’m comin‘ in hot“.
PHOTO-GALLERY: Ashley Wagner in Barcelona, at the Grand Prix Final