|Agnes Zawadzki competes in the women's short program during
the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at Osaka
Municipal Central Gymnasium on Feb. 9, 2013 in Osaka, Japan.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Agnes Zawadzki considers herself solid with her spins, yet there’s always room for improvement for an Olympic hopeful.
“Holding my position,” she said, has become a glaring goal in the run-up to Sochi.
Zawadzki, 19, and full of potential, again seems willing to not only hold onto her position in her spins but also as one of America’s top figure skaters. The United States will send three women to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February, and Zawadzki is hoping she will be one of them.
Her story reads somewhat like that of a typical young phenom: After starting the sport at 5 in the Chicago area, the first-generation American (her brother and parents are from Poland) showed promise, leading to a move from Illinois to Colorado Springs, Colo., five years ago in order to be closer to a new coach.
Since moving to the Centennial State, life had been a whirlwind. Zawadzki moved to Colorado with her mother and grandparents — at one point the four were cramped in a modest two-bedroom apartment — while her brother and his family recently moved to the area.
Finally, last March, she said she reached a breaking point. Zawadzki had gone through a tough stretch, having placed third overall at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships (but finishing seventh in her free skate) and following that up with a disappointing eighth-place showing at the ISU Four Continents Championships. Afterward, Zawadzki took a break.
She did yoga. She drank green-tea lattes. She ate gluten-laced foods like they were going out of style.
One of her coaches, Christy Krall, also was out of commission. Krall had undergone knee surgery, so the pupil and coach spoke by phone.
“Agnes was walking the fence,” Krall said. “She was trying to figure out ‘Stay in, stay out?’ ... She called me back after we had a really long conversation and she decided she would give it one more really dedicated effort going after this. But she couldn’t continue like (before the break). She either had to walk the walk, or say that ‘Life is good ... and you don’t have to go after this.’”
At that point, Zawadzki appeared to be done, on to college.
Zawadzki loves to dance and said she could envision herself one day living in a ballroom in some form. Nutrition fascinates her, too. As does psychology, which has been a regular focus in recent months for her.
But then came a new opportunity, and with that came renewed enthusiasm. In fact, Krall isn’t so sure Zawadzki would still be around if not for a couple of American skaters who thrived at the perfect time.
In March, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold placed high enough at the World Figure Skating Championships in Canada to secure three spots for the U.S. women for the field in Sochi. It was a major step for the United States as it works to re-establish its presence on the international scale. And it was a milestone that got Zawadzki back motivated again.
Still, Zawadzki is no shoo-in. Christina Gao, Courtney Hicks and Mirai Nagasu are among others who also saw the metaphorical door to Sochi open. They will join Wagner and Gold in a crowded field competing for the three Olympic spots.
All of these talented skaters are expected to compete at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston in January. That event will serve as the final qualifying event prior to the selection of the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team that will compete in Sochi.
|Agnes Zawadzki poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee
promotional shoot on April 24, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.
“I really haven’t changed my views, thinking that third spot makes it any easier for me,” Zawadzki said. “Of course, I was jumping up and down when it became possible. I was so happy for them doing so well. But the way I see it, I’m still trying to get first place.”
Zawadzki said she is not only stronger physically but also mentally.
“More than anything, I’ve been working on my confidence,” said Zawadzki, who has been working with a sports psychologist. “We’ve been working on my resilience — not shutting down, fighting back after each mistake. Some days are better than others, but it’s going good.”
Individual sports such as figure skating can be a lonely, selfish world. Even the bubbly Zawadzki admitted that she can be in her own skate-blade bubble. More than one year removed from large, public Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, she doesn’t really keep tabs on former classmates because she admits she was mostly reclusive there, gravitating toward fellow rink-rats later in the day.
Last school year, she took a few psychology classes at a local college but now is focused full time on reaching Sochi.
Zawadzki is also finding new routines away from training.
When she competed at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City a year ago, she took time out to listen to the area’s famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Competing during the weekend at the same competition this past weekend, there was a University of Utah football game. The rink is located on campus, in the midst of a whole lot of pre-game tailgating. Her goal was to take the short walk and attend the Utes game after her competition.
The U.S. International Figure Skating Classic was Zawadzki’s first international competition of the season. She entered the event as the defending champion and placed second after the short program. She struggled in her free skate, performed to a tango, by doubling a couple of planned triples and falling on a triple Lutz and placed fourth overall.
Krall called Zawadzki’s performance a “really good start to the season,” and noted her skater’s attention to the Argentine dance choreography. Zawadzki is scheduled to compete in two more international events, the Cup of China (Nov. 1-3) and the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow (Nov. 22-24).
The real test will come in January at nationals where she will try to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi.
“It’s definitely back to the drawing board for me,” Zawadzki said after her performance in Salt Lake City. “My next (competition) isn’t until November so I’ve got a good month and some weeks to get that program done. I need to strategize and figure out what I need to do, what works, what doesn’t work and kind of get my head on straight. I did learn a lot here and I’m definitely going to take that with me to the next competition.”