To say the 2014 U.S. Nationals in Boston were tough for Ashley Wagner is an understatement: finishing on the 4th place the event in TD Garden arena, behind Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Mirai Nagasu, Ashley found herself on the verge of missing the Olympic team for Sochi – and when she did get named in the team due to her strong international record, the controversy stirred by the decision gloomed her joy of making the trip to her first Olympics. Two years later, with the World Championships hosted by the same arena in Boston, Ashley Wagner says she would like to „reset the feeling of that rink”, by having a great skate and showing people that she is an athlete „that can put it together” when it really counts. And that she feels prepared, calm, confident, „and it’s just time to go and do the job”.
With this year’s edition of the Worlds starting today in Boston, we’re bringing you some of Ashley’s thoughts prior to the competition, as verbalized during her teleconference with the US media (the recording is available in its entirety on Icenetwork). We’re publishing thus Ashley’s main statements during the conference, covering a variety of topics – the questions were really straightforward, and her answers were likewise; and we’re using bold letters to emphasize parts of them.
“I think the season so far has been pretty solid, I’ve had some high and lows, as per usual in my career, but I think this year in particular has been really great for Raf and I [Rafael Arutyunyan – Ashley’s coach], because I think, third season in, we really start to understand each other and communicate better”.
“I physically feel that I’m in the best shape of my life and that I’m ready to keep on pushing for the next couple of years, as long as my body allows it. But beyond that, to be in the middle of the Olympic cycle and feeling the way that I’m feeling right now, I feel like I’m such a strong athlete compared to what I was 4 years ago at this time, and I’m feeling great about where I’m going and the pace that I’m at”.
[On her relation with coach Rafael Arutyunyan]
“The easiest way that I can summarize it, it’s a cultural change working with a Russian coach, in the way they bring up their skaters, the way that they expect their skaters to train every single day. He’s completely different from any other coach that I have worked with, and I think that Raf knows what works, he knows what doesn’t work, he thinks that the American system is very flawed in the way that we train our athletes. So I had to kind of learn how to train like a Russian, if you will, and I think that is something that I definitely pushed against for a while, because I wanted to show him that I could still do it the way that I’ve done it for years and years and years, and it worked like that”.
“But he definitely won [you can hear her laughing], and I think that the way that I’m training now he is completely satisfied with, and so that says a lot to me, that I can get out on the ice, do my work, get my job done, and have him be happy with what I’ve done at the end of the day. So that kind of gives me confidence when I’m getting out on to the ice, that if he believes in what I’m doing, that’s the ultimate confirmation that I’m prepared”.
[On the biggest difference between Russian way of training and North American way of training]
“I think that if you’re tired, you acknowledge it – and training really begins once your legs are dead, once you’re exhausted, once you can’t really feel your body. So the whole point…, the way that Raf coaches things, is that he pushes you so that you wear yourself out, and then you start to train. Because you need to be able to do the jumps when you can’t feel your legs, you need to be able to do them when your body is not feeling that great, and I think that this is very tried and true, if you ask anybody who’s had any experience with a Russian coach, that they mentally exhaust you, they physically exhaust you, and then you try…”.
[Can she win Worlds]
“I think this has been a question that all of us get asked every single year. But I think the first thing that people need to stop and take a look at is how extremely competitive the international scene has got”.
“Internationally, we are seeing a competitive scene that we’ve never had to go against before. The Russians are strong, the Japanese are strong, teams that every country has been putting out strong. The field has just changed so dramatically since the ’90ties or the early 2000s, and I think that is definitely one of the reasons why we had a drought for so long”.
“I’m coming in to these World Championships physically very ready. Mentally, I’m at a point where I think that it’s just up to me to do it, and I feel like I’ve been given so many of these responses and not like actually skating on them… But I really do feel like I am prepared, I feel calm, I feel confident, and it’s just time to go and do the job. And I think that the rest will fall into place”.
“I think that it was a blessing in disguise that I’m not going into the World Championships as the frontrunner, there’s not that extra pressure on me [Ashley finished the 2016 U.S. Nationals on the third place]. I love to skate as the underdog, I think that’s usually when I am my strongest. I think that while people may see me as the underdog, I’m definitely not going in as the underdog. I’m ready to go out there and deliver”.
[On the Worlds in the United States]
“I’m so excited to have a World Championships on home turf [the enthusiasm in her voice is easily traceable]. That extra level of comfort will definitely be appreciated, having a hometown audience, having people to cheer for you, I think it’s going to make for a really fun event for the Americans”.
[On keeping the competitive fire, the drive, for so long]
“I think I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have some days: What am I doing?, Why am I still doing this?, It’s so hard, it’s getting harder every year… But at the same time, I compete and I’m still doing this because is what I want to still be doing, I don’t feel like my story is over yet, and I think when that time comes I’ll know it, I’ll feel it and I will definitely answer to that. But it hasn’t happened yet and I can’t see myself wanted to be done anytime soon”.
[On her disappointment following the 2015 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, where she was 6th after SP, 3rd after FS and 4th overall. She stated then: “I have that unfortunate quality of skating my programs like two different people. I think that part of my problem right now is that I don’t have any explanation why”. Did she get some clarity on that?]
“I think part of the reason why the season had so many highs and lows it’s because, like I’ve been saying with Raf, we have been working so much on the technique, on his way, and I’m finally understanding what he is asking from me”.
“But you see these difficult combinations, and these girls that I’m competing with have been doing these combinations, for the most part, for years and years and years. And for me I’ve been doing these combinations this way for maybe a year max. So it’s difficult when you’re under pressure, because it’s not what’s naturally coming to you. So this year is kind of about me fighting a jump technique that I’ve been doing one way for at least 10 years, and doing the way Raf wants me to do it. And I feel that’s where the inconsistencies were coming from”.
[On the Russian ladies]
“I think the ultimate test for all of the Russians is kind of beating that 3-4 years span. I think we have seen so many girls come in, and they are the it girl, the next big thing, and they have amazing seasons, and then their career kind of fades out, and we don’t see much of them, and I think for them their biggest test is going to be getting pass puberty, doing these amazing jumps, and triples, and spins with a woman’s body. And I think that what they’re doing right now is insanely incredible, it speaks to their talent, and I don’t want to ever take away from an athlete’s talent, so I’m just saying that for them the next big test is going to be kind of growing into their bodies and maintaining a career and getting over that hump, that 3-year cycle, where these girls kind of seem to be getting in and out of”.
[On what it takes for the American ladies to surpass their opponents at Worlds]
“I can’t necessary speak for my other teammates, but for me I think the way I’ve been working for the last couple of weeks… It’s not necessarily just putting out the jumps, and putting out the spins, I think that it’s a little bit more complicated than that”.
“Because if you put me side by side with a Russian girl and we’d do the exact same program, this Russian girl was going to beat me, because her jumps have difficult entries and exits, and everything is a little bit more controlled and connected. So I think that is more about the quality of everything, and that has to be much better that everything they are already doing”.
[On returning to Boston, for the Worlds, after the troublesome experience of the 2014 Nationals]
“I can’t wait to go back into Boston and create some happier memories. I mean, of course, making the Olympic team was one of the happiest memories I have, but it wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. It wasn’t a way that I can necessarily hold my head high about, so I’m ready to just go in and show people that I’m an athlete that can put it together and reset the feeling of that rink, I would love to do that”.
[Has she ever returned to TD Garden arena after 2014 Nationals]
“Yes, actually right after these Nationals [in January 2016], I went to Boston and went to the rink to promote the event [2016 Worlds], so it was nice to get back into the rink on neutral terms, not for an event, just to be there and see the rink, and get a feel for it. So I feel like I reset and I can go there not thinking too much…”
[Towards the end of the media conference, Ashley talked about her efforts in the two months that have passed since the Nationals: “cleaning everything up”, “building the endurance, but in a different way that I had in the past”, “putting down the jumps nicer and cleaner”]
“Hopefully, when I go into Boston, everyone will see that in the span of two months I’ve completely upgraded the kind of skater that I am”.
[Selection, editing and setting in bold type by Florentina Tone]