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Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Back to being fierce

By Ashley Wagner

Ashley Wagner
Ashley Wagner felt a last-minute switch in her free skate allowed her to skate as a "fierce and hungry" competitor at the Olympics.

Coming home from Sochi as an Olympic medalist is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was such an amazing experience. I didn’t know what to expect going in with all the hype about security issues and problems with the hotels, but as soon as I set foot in Sochi it was totally beyond what I could have ever expected. You can feel the excitement of the Olympics and just how big the event is.

This season had been a little touch-and-go for me. I’d wanted to try something different from the performances I’d done in the past, to skate something new and fresh rather than comfortable and easy. And David Wilson, my choreographer, did a phenomenal job creating a beautiful Romeo and Juliet program for me.

But its fatal flaw was that it just wasn’t true enough to me as an athlete. I had trouble relating to a sweet, tragic 13-year-old Juliet when I’m 22 and stubborn and hardheaded! I dive into my characters and really become the program, and who I was as Juliet didn’t make me fierce and hungry as a competitor.

I thought it would make me a better skater, and the choreography that David gave me really did help push me to a different level of skating. It also changed the way I competed, though. I was nervous and anxious instead of strong, confident and fierce.

I first got the idea in my head of switching back to my Samson and Delilah program from last season -- with some updates, of course -- after Skate America in October. And once I set my mind to something and really start believing it, you can’t change my mind.

Ashley Wagner
Ashley Wagner (center) celebrates winning bronze in the team event, with Marissa Castelli and Jeremy Abbott.

I brought it up to Rafael Arutunian, my coach, before the Grand Prix in December. He said I was crazy. But after a very disappointing fourth-place finish at nationals in January, I was able to show him I just wasn’t comfortable with the character and the program wasn’t going to get me onto the podium at the Olympics.

So I said, “Raf, this is absolutely crazy, but you need to believe in me. We’re going to do absolutely everything to make this happen.” And he held me to that.

It was insane to change an entire program I’d been preparing for six or seven months so close to the Olympics. But we did it, and I have no regrets. I was proud of the performances I had at the Olympics, skating lights-out and really delivering when it counted. It gave me everything I could have wanted and more from my Sochi experience.

I know there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the scoring at the Olympics, and honestly, I think that having a lot of eyes on figure skating is great for the sport. It puts pressure on us to do better. The media love to find the drama, and figure skating hands them that on a silver platter.

What I think definitely needs to be said is that the top three skaters -- Adelina Sotnikova, Kim Yu-na and Carolina Kostner -- hands down belong in the top three. I didn’t see anyone skate, so I can’t say which order they should be in.

I’m just calling for a little more transparency. We need to make it easier for the audience and the athletes to understand what’s going on. At the end of the day we need to make the judges accountable for the scores they’re giving. Figure skating needs to be reliable and believable, and you’re not going to have that if you have anonymous people giving marks.

But to be clear, it’s not like I am stomping my feet and whining and saying I should have been in first place. I’m not saying we need transparency for myself; it’s for everybody -- for the sport as a whole.

After the competition was over I did treat myself to some McDonald’s at the cafeteria in the Olympic Village. That was a pretty sweet celebration. I got a burger and fries and nuggets, and I was very satisfied!

The cafeteria was the coolest place to be in Sochi, with the best people-watching ever. I spend a lot of time in airports, and people-watching is one of my favorite pastimes.

The Olympics may be behind me but there’s still no break in sight. Worlds start on Mar. 24, which basically means a month of training and then doing the Olympics all over again. After that, I’m excited to join all my skating friends for Stars on Ice, which starts in April. So, here we go again!