A great start to my season

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Ashley Wagner won her first two competitions of the season: the Japan Open and Skate America.

My first two competitions of the season are under my belt, and I can’t complain so far! I'm excited to say that I'm 2-for-2. The first, the Japan Open, was a completely different environment than any I’d skated in before, but I loved it. Usually competitions are spread over a few days, but this one was jammed into a single day, just go-go-go.

I arrived in Japan with only a day to practice, and then it was showtime. I competed on a team with two Canadian men (Jeffrey Buttle and Patrick Chan) and one other American woman (Agnes Zawadzki), and we got these cool jackets as Team North America. We watched and cheered while the men competed, then it was off to warm up for our own programs. Not much time to get nervous!

We skated only our long programs, and the one-and-done setup of the event made it a little tough to get into a competitive mentality. Normally the short program is a nice way to ease into the competition. I wasn’t sure how to feel, or whether to approach it in my mind as a show performance or a competition. When I perform in shows, it’s all about giving the audience what they want. In competition, although I want the audience to enjoy it, the judges are the priority. So this was a hybrid of both: You had one and only one shot to get the audience and the judges into it.

Just getting out there and dealing with some pressure was the first step to building my confidence for the rest of the season. There’s no way to simulate in practice how I’m going to feel skating in front of all those eyes. I have a love-hate relationship with performing. Right before I step onto the ice I think, “Why am I doing this? This is awful!” But as soon as the music comes on, the feeling of everyone watching me gives me a huge adrenaline rush and I just want to show off.

After my win in Japan I came back to the U.S. for Skate America, in Kent, Wash. This was my 10th Grand Prix competition, and my first gold medal. I loved skating on my home turf, but at the same time, competing here was reminiscent of national championships, and that was pretty nerve-wracking. Just the setup and surroundings brought up a lot of the nerves I usually have at nationals. And I'm definitely not ready for nationals yet! (Luckily, they aren't until the end of January so I have lots of time still.)

Skate America counted for international points, so I knew I needed to do well to get to the Grand Prix finals. I was happy with what I did overall. I had one little bobble on the triple jump in my short program -- I started thinking too much and kind of doubted myself. I had to fight to stay on my feet and it wasn’t the best quality, but overall it was not a bad competition. I don’t want to go out this early on and be perfect, after all. You have to have something to build on.

I usually tiptoe my way into the program over the course of the season. The first couple of times it’s just the skeleton, very raw and not completely refined. As the season goes on, my coach and I add more choreography, ramp up the difficult jumps and add more complexity. And then it’s just repetition and practice, going over different sections again and again until they're as close to perfect as I can get them.

Next it’s off to Paris for my second Grand Prix, the Trophée Eric Bompard in mid-November. It’s going to be a tough competition with a bunch of younger Russian skaters, and I’m going to have to be really strong. I’m working on adding a triple-triple combo to my short and long programs, and I feel like if I can get that in both it will make me competitive against these girls. I have a lot of work ahead of me, though.

In the meantime I’m also staying busy taking a journalism class at a local college. Learning the AP style format and everything else is sometimes stressful and confusing, but I really enjoy school. I think it’s a good way of making sure my brain doesn’t go to mush with all this skating!