Attitude makes Wagner a triple threat
DETROIT -- It is certainly not a case of shyness with Ashley Wagner. Not in life. Not on the ice. Not when it comes to the one element that looms over women's figure skating, daring, almost taunting, and certainly demanding of competitors who want to be taken seriously.
Wagner always had the right attitude about pulling off a triple-triple, or rather the triple-triple, a combination jump that in her case is a triple flip-triple toe loop.
It is so intimidating, potentially unraveling and yet necessary, that the 22-year-old from suburban Washington, D.C., was asked the other day if perhaps she had considered a sports psychologist in getting over the triple-triple hurdle.
"Well," she said, reminding us who we were dealing with, "I come from a strict military upbringing, and I believe in the power of the sports psychologist but, I, myself, it's like too much for me to think about, and my dad just told me, 'Don't be a wimp.' So I can't be a wimp. That's my mentality."
At Saturday's Skate America, Wagner admitted to being "pretty terrified" before taking the ice at Joe Louis Arena for the women's short program. But in the end, she took her dad's -- and her coach's -- advice.
"Before I went out there," Wagner said, "Raf [Rafael Arutyunyan] told me to 'Go do it. Go skate like you know how to,' and I just kind of turned the rest off and went into auto-pilot on the triple-toe and performed them the way I do in practice."
The result was a powerfully clean performance that scored a 69.26, three points higher than Wagner's previous personal best, and the first time she pulled off the triple-triple in competition with full credit from the judges. Skated to "Shine On Your Crazy Diamond" by Pink Floyd, the routine also was good enough for second behind Japan's Mao Asada heading into Sunday's long program.
Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, performed just after Wagner, last on the day. She nailed a triple Axel, the most difficult jump currently done by women, and a triple flip-double loop combination to score a 73.18.
"I point the gun in the right direction," said Arutyunyan, the Russian who took over as Wagner's primary coach in June. "[But] actually, I'm very surprised. I didn't realize she is such a good talent. I mean [I] expected … but she is one of the quickest learners in my life."
She also is quickly becoming a public figure unafraid to express her opinion. She was one of the few athletes to speak out against Russia's anti-gay legislation at the U.S. Olympic Media Summit recently.
Refreshingly candid and humorous in the skating arena as well, Wagner got her first taste of this weekend's competition during Friday's practice session, when she shared the ice with Mao, who did not attempt to hide anything.
"When I'm out at practice and Mao is pulling off triple Axels like it's no one's business, that obviously makes me think, 'Auugh, time to step it up a bit,' " Wagner said.
Was she aware of the two-time world champion's rapid succession of triple Axels in practice?
"Well," she said, "I heard people losing their minds, so …"
Still, Wagner clearly was in her element.
"I love this type of environment," she said. "I'm a show pony and I don't get to skate with girls doing triple Axels every single day. I skate with little babies who are working on their single Axels while trying not to hit them on the ice.
"So it's a nice change for me and it's great to be out with some of the top ladies in the world because it makes you re-evaluate where you are in your skating, and it's good because it makes me go home and figure out what I need to work on because I get to see what everyone else has in their repertoire."
The Skate America field is missing defending Olympic and world champion Yuna Kim, out with a foot injury, and Italy's Carolina Kostner, a medalist in the past three world championships. Also not in Detroit this weekend (by choice) are Americans Gracie Gold, Christina Gao and Agnes Zawadzki, who are also expected to compete for one of three spots on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.
As for Wagner, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude may not be all that typical in a sport peppered with introspective types, but so far it's working.
"I'm the type of skater that needs to stay upbeat and relaxed, open, because if I stay quiet, I get in my head and then I start to think too much and start to doubt," she said. "So for me, the more relaxed I can stay, the more fun I have on the ice and the more I enjoy it … then the rest follows.
"But don't tell my secret."