BOSTON – Ashley Wagner went into her free skate Saturday night at the 2016 World Figure Skating with the mindset that she didn’t “need” a world medal. For perhaps the first time in her lengthy career, Wagner was not focused on a placement or the daunting task of winning a medal on the world stage. Instead, she just wanted to skate the way she knew she could.
That mindset worked. Wagner won the silver medal at the TD Garden in Boston, breaking a 10-year medal drought for U.S. women’s figure skaters at worlds or the Olympics – their longest drought since 1924.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Wagner said of her achievement. “Here I am, the silver medalist in the entire world, it’s insane! It’s been a 10-year drought – to be able to break through that, to be on the podium; I’m elated, I’m excited and I feel like I’ve worked my butt off this season to be here.”
Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva won the world title with a total score of 223.86, well ahead of Wagner’s 215.39, while Medvedeva’s compatriot Anna Pogorilaya claimed bronze with a 213.69. Gracie Gold was fourth with 211.29.
After the short program, Gold led the field by almost 2.5 points, while Wagner was sitting just outside the podium in fourth. After a fall in her free skate and downgrading a triple lutz to a double, Gold was third and left room for Wagner – the final skater of the night – to steal the show. The 24-year-old owned the moment and performed a nearly flawless program, earning the second-highest free skate score, which had the highest program components score of the night.
“This is absolutely incredible because that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said of skating last. “I don’t think anyone can prepare you for skating last at the world championships after your rival has skated a great performance, knowing that the entire ladies’ field has skated field has skated pretty phenomenally.
“To go out there feeling the way that I did, being as terrified as I was, and finding a way to get on the ice and have access to the skater that I’ve been in training this week, that is unbelievable.”
Wagner credited her silver medal to her work with coach Rafael Arutunian, who she began working with in 2013, but the foundation for her success long before then. She is a true veteran of the sport, having competed at her 12th national championships (her ninth as a senior). At the 2016 worlds, she was one of only six women (out of 38) age 24 or older.
In a sport where world and Olympic champions are often in their teens, Wagner has spent the past few years proving she is far from your typical skater. At 22, she made her first Olympic team (and won a bronze medal in the team event). At 23, she won her third national title and set a U.S. record. So how does she do it?
“I’m like a fine wine, I keep on getting better with age. That’s what I like to tell myself,” she quipped. “I think that I’ve been really lucky with my career and that I’ve been injury-free. And I think that, knock on wood, the way that I’ve trained the past couple of years I’ve allowed my body to work with me as I get older. …
“This silver medal is proof that I’ve been working hard and that I have some staying power, and just because I’m 24 that doesn’t make me old, that makes me spirited.”
Boston marked Wagner’s sixth world championships. She finished 16th in her first year as a senior in 2008. When she returned to worlds in ’09 she finished one spot off the podium, then had a string of near-misses, finishing fifth, seventh and fifth before finally reaching the medal stand this year.
Similarly, Gold’s career seemed to be following a natural upwards progression that she hoped would lead towards the podium this year. She had competed at worlds in each of her three senior seasons before this one, finishing sixth in 2013, fifth in 2014 and fourth in 2015. The 20-year-old came into this season expecting a world medal and saying she would be disappointed with anything less.
“Obviously I’m really embarrassed and I’m really ashamed with how I’m skated,” Gold said after her free skate. “It was just one of those really, really tragic skates that you feel like you can’t do anything right. I feel really sorry for Boston and for the United States that I let them down when they needed me most.”
Despite her disappointment, Gold has been in the top seven at each of her 20 international senior assignments and continues to move closer and closer to a world or Olympic medal (she was fourth at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games).
“It’s appearing less and less likely that that’s in my cards, but of course I’ll keep trying and training hard,” she said of winning a world medal. “I am in the top in the world. I still have hopes for (the 2018 Olympics) and 2018 podium. … I have potential, it just has to happen at the right time.”
Team USA’s Mirai Nagasu, who only 10 days ago found out she would be competing at worlds because Polina Edmunds withdrew due to a bone bruise, finished 10th with 186.65. Boston marked Nagasu’s first world championships since 2010, the same year she competed at her first and (to date) only Olympic Games.
“I made a couple mistakes, so I’m a little bit upset about that,” Nagasu said. “But at the end of the day I wasn’t even supposed to be here, so I’m really appreciative to the Boston crowd. They were really helping me sustain my energy and keeping me going.”