GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Ashley Wagner loves to defy the odds. One year after making her first Olympic team at 22 — an age by which most skaters have peaked or retired — Wagner continues to defy the idiom “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Now four months shy of her 24th birthday, Wagner debuted — and successfully landed — her triple Lutz-triple toe jump during the ladies short program at the Prudential 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday night.
“I hate to sound like a California kid, but tonight was totally awesome,” Wagner said. “To put out pretty much what I’ve been doing in practice as well as upping my technical difficulty, that was huge for me, and I think that it is one of the stepping stones along the way to becoming one of the top ladies internationally.”
Wagner leads the ladies competition after the short program, with a score of 72.04, followed by her two 2014 Olympic teammates. Gracie Gold scored 67.02 while Polina Edmunds was less than a point behind with 66.04. Mirai Nagasu, who finished third at the 2014 national championships, is in fourth with 65.28 points.
It was a “very fierce” competition, according to defending U.S. champion Gold, where the second- through ninth-place skaters were separated by a mere seven points.
The ladies competition continues Saturday, when Wagner, the 2012 and 2013 U.S. champion, will look to regain her status of national champion and become the first woman to win three national titles since Michelle Kwan, who won the title eight consecutive years from 1998-2005.
But Wagner has bigger plans in store. Assuming she can stay on the podium, her next goal is to win a world championship medal, which would require beating one of the Russian skaters, a feat not unheard of.
“I’ve got my work cut out for me, that’s for sure,” Wagner said. “We have a really strong international field and the U.S. field to even get out of it is pretty tough. … To even put the Lutz toe out there and have a triple flip, that’s a gutsy move, especially at the national championship.”
She landed a triple flip-triple toe at the Grand Prix Final in December in Barcelona, Spain, where she earned the bronze medal behind Russians Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Elena Radionova. Wagner was sixth after the short program in Barcelona but after landing seven triple jumps, including two combinations, in her free skate, she overcame Russians Anna Pogorilaya and Yulia Lipnitskaia, and Japan’s Rika Hongo.
“I took about a week and a half off after the Grand Prix Final,” Wagner said. “And getting full credit for the Lutz in the long program at the final really got me thinking that I need to skip to the point where I can max out my programs technically and that starts with me having Lutzes in my program.”
Wagner credits Rafael Arutunian, who she has been working with since June 2013, with helping her develop clean triple-triple combinations.
“The whole reason I’m working with him and working this hard is because I want to improve,” she said. “If I’m 23 and not improving, I’m wasting my time and I’m wasting the audience’s time, so I’m doing a good job.”