SOCHI 2014

By Doug Williams | Jan. 23, 2014, 10:23 p.m. (ET)

Ashley Wagner performs her exhibition program at Trophee Eric Bompard on Nov. 17, 2013 in Paris.

With less than three weeks to go before the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Ashley Wagner is calling an audible.

Named to her first U.S. Olympic Team after finishing fourth at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships earlier this month, Wagner wasn’t happy with her long program and has changed it.

She fell twice at nationals while skating to “Romeo and Juliet,” and said she never quite felt comfortable with it. So she’s bringing back her “Samson and Delilah” long program from last season.

She’s incorporating “bits and pieces” of the new program into the old, but it’s a change that’s making her feel much more comfortable as the Sochi Winter Games near.

 
Ashley Wagner competes her free skate program during the 2014
Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on
Jan. 11, 2014 in Boston.

“I wasn’t able to connect very well with it, and I think because I was uncomfortable with it, it made it very difficult to compete,” Wagner said on a national conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon. “Going into the Olympics, I want to feel as comfortable and confident on the ice as I possibly can. I’ve been really happy with how the (new) program is going in training, and it feels great.”

Wagner knows some people will look at her change in course with a bit of skepticism because there is so little time left to train the program before the Winter Games begin. To an extent, she would agree.

“The decision I made to change my program is probably … it is insane,” she said. “Absolutely insane.”

But she knew the change had to be made. Wagner said she actually been thinking about the change for quite a while, but waited until after nationals to make the final decision with coach Rafael Arutyunyan.

“I feel I skate with so much more conviction in this program, and I really believe in this program,” Wagner said.

Even the difference in the characters — she opted for the strong, powerful Delilah over the younger Juliet — has given Wagner a boost.

“The character of Delilah is such a strong, powerful woman,” said Wagner, who at 22 is the oldest of the three women figure skaters on the U.S. Olympic Team. “That mindset is going to help me in Sochi.”

On Thursday, Wagner talked about how the last week and a half since the conclusion of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston has “been a bit chaotic,” but she’s convinced all the chaos will conclude with her pointed in the right direction.

First, there was the controversy in Boston, when Wagner finished fourth yet was selected to the team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu. U.S. Figure Skating took into account Wagner’s stronger overall performance in the past year to determine she was the better choice to represent the team, which also includes national champion Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds, a 15-year-old who finished a surprising second.

Although Nagasu had a better finish at nationals and had finished fourth in the Winter Games in Vancouver four years ago, she had not been a consistent performer in major competitions this past season.

“It’s the results and participation in events over the course of the past year-plus,” U.S. Figure Skating president Patricia St. Peter told the media in Boston. “So if you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she’s got the top credentials of any of our female athletes.”

Wagner finished fifth at the 2013 world championships, the highest of any U.S. women’s figure skater, and medaled at the last two ISU Grand Prix Finals, which features the top six skaters in the world each season.

Still, Wagner was caught in the middle of a social-media crossfire, and some things that were said and written, Wagner said, were “unacceptable.”

“It’s a shame that people feel so comfortable saying things about a person they don’t know,” Wagner said. “That’s what I was really disappointed with.”

But she also was lifted by words of support from inside and outside the skating community. A message from Nagasu, in fact, was most consoling.

“The comment that really pushed me through all this came from Mirai,” Wagner said. “Through all of this (she) has been really phenomenal, and the way she handled this, I really admire her for that. She texted me on Sunday after I was placed on the team, and she said to me … ‘You belong on the team. Good luck. Love you.’ And that was all I really needed to feel alright about this.”

Now, as she works on her new program and tries to put these past few weeks behind her, she’s eager for her first Olympic experience. Her mindset, she said, is now much different than it was going into nationals.

“Nationals to me was letting that one moment overwhelm me and I thought more about what was on the line rather than … I thought of what I could lose rather than what I could gain, and what I was working toward,” Wagner said. “It was the wrong mindset going into such a huge competition. I think that’s where I really struggled.”

Now, it’s just about the skating with a program she loves.

“This new program is really going to enable me to get that confidence, forward motion-type of thinking,” Wagner said.

Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line EditorialInc.                

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