Go For The Gold


When Ashley Wagner logged on to Facebook last week, the social networking website asked her to complete her profile.

“I thought it was so funny, I logged on to Facebook and there is a notification that my profile is incomplete because I needed to put in where I went to college,” Wagner said. “In everyone’s mind, you’re not complete until you go to college.”

This month, many of Wagner’s friends from West Potomac High School are walking across the stage, receiving their college diplomas. But a larger stage may await Wagner: the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

“I haven’t graduated from college yet, but I’m living a life not many people can say they’ve lived,” said Wagner, who has studied part-time while pursuing the Olympic Winter Games.

The Games would nearly complete the illustrious skating profile of the two-time reigning U.S. champion in ladies figure skating. She was the alternate for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“If I didn’t have that experience of just missing out on Vancouver, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Wagner said. “It caused me to take a look at my career and make tough decisions that would help me reach my goals. I feel I’m capable of getting to the Olympics now.”

Capable is an understatement. Wagner, the first woman to win consecutive U.S. titles since Michelle Kwan in 2005, is the leading lady of U.S. figure skating.

“I am so different than I was four years ago,” said Wagner, who recently inked a deal with Nike. “Back then, skating was just something that I did because I enjoyed it. I did not have the purpose I do today.”

Then, Wagner was an 18-year-old living with her coach Priscilla Hill near the Skating Club of Wilmington (Del.). She was in one of her first full seasons as a senior competitor.

Now she is freshly 22, celebrating her birthday on May 18, and living on her own near her Aliso Viejo, Calif., training rink. She has won six international medals since the 2009-10 season, including gold medals at the 2012 Four Continents Championship, 2012 Skate America and 2012 Trophee Eric Bompard.

Ashley Wagner
Ashley Wagner skates in the ladies short program during the Skate
America competition at the ShoWare Center on October 20,
2012 in Kent, Washington.

“Skating is my life now,” Wagner said. “I’ve made so many huge changes in the past few years because I am committed to this sport and my performances. I own it. It makes it much more gratifying that way.”

More changes are on the way for Wagner. In April, ­she announced that she would no longer work with choreographer Phillip Mills, who created the short programs and free skates she used to win her two national titles.

“I was just ready for something new,” she said. “Phillip is a great choreographer, and I had a lot of success with his programs, but I wanted to mix it up for the Olympic year. It is easy to get comfortable with someone and when you’re comfortable, you’re not improving. I always want to get better and improve myself so mixing it up, working with new choreographers is just another way to do that.”

Wagner has been away from training for two weeks, following the end of a long season that included a fifth place finish at the world championship and a team win at the World Team Trophy. But after a vacation in Hawaii, she is ready to get back to work.

"I’m in the very, very early process of picking out my programs,” Wagner said. “I have not found any music that I am dying to skate to yet but I know that I will get there. For me, the programs are still a work in progress, but I know this season is too important for me to rush the process. I want to have two programs that I absolutely love performing.”

World champion ice dancer Shae-Lynn Bourne, who competed at three Olympic Winter Games for Canada with Victor Kraatz, will create Wagner’s short program.

“I worked with Shae-Lynn for a show program,” Wagner said. “She is just a phenomenal person to work with because she makes the process so enjoyable. Everything in her programs is so intricate and complicated. She makes you a better skater. For my short this year, I want to do a program that is edgy and sexy. No one is better at that than Shae-Lynn.”

David Wilson will choreograph her free skate.

No matter the music of her programs, a priority for Wagner is upping the technical ante of her programs. She was fourth and fifth at the last two world championships, without the benefit of a consistent triple-triple combination.

“I’m always annoyingly close to a medal,” Wagner said. “For me, I think the difference is the triple-triple. It sets people apart.”

Wagner, who is an ambassador for the non-profit Classroom Champions, wants to be set apart from the field in the beginning of the season.

“I think that last season, I waited too long for the triple-triple,” she said. “By the time it came around to do it in competition, I crumbled under pressure. I am not going to allow myself to do that this season.”

She even tried it out while touring Canada with Stars on Ice. “I have to get comfortable with it so I am doing it whenever I can,” said Wagner, who will most likely attempt the triple flip-triple toe combination in the upcoming season.

But perhaps the most significant change for Wagner this season is not choreographers or triple-triple combinations. After two seasons with John Nicks at the boards, 84-year-old Nicks told Wagner last month that he would no longer travel with her to competitions.

She plans to train with Nicks on a day-to-day basis but hire a secondary coach who can work alongside Nicks in practice and travel to events.

Ashley Wagner performs in the ladies free skate during the 2012
Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final at the Iceberg Skating
Palace on Dec. 8, 2012 in Sochi, Russia.

“I have a couple of tryouts coming up soon,” she said. “I don’t want to pick a name of out a hat and settle. I want to make sure that I pick the right person. I’m confident that I will find that person soon.”

Her Stars on Ice cast mates have helped her narrow down choices.

“I’ve had to go through all of my coaching options while I was still on tour,” said Wagner, who plans to stay in Southern California. “They’ve had experience with all of the main coaches I’ve been thinking of. I have a handful of options right now but I don’t want to pick anyone until I’ve done my tryouts.”

The decision will likely come in the next week or two.

After all, Sochi is just 254 days away.

“In my mind, the dream scenario is that I would have winning programs at nationals and make the team,” she said. “I would go to Sochi, skate two perfect programs, with the crowd giving me a standing ovation for my free skate, and I would win the gold medal. I’ll settle for the podium, but I want that gold medal.”

If it works out that way for Wagner, perhaps then Facebook would deem her life a little more complete.

“I’m not sure where you put the Olympics on your Facebook profile,” she laughed.

“I hope to find out.”