At 25 years old, figure skater Ashley Wagner is aware that the majority of her competitive career is behind her.
Rather than going quietly into the night, however, Wagner believes her best days may be yet to come, and she’s determined to make the most of what’s left. Given her silver-medal performance at last year’s world championships, there’s reason to believe she will do exactly that.
“This is a very important season for me because I got so much momentum coming off the worlds silver medal,” said Wagner, a three-time national champion who will be competing this weekend at Skate America in Chicago. “That’s something that’s huge for my career, but at the same time I have to make sure I keep my focus. I can’t rely on going into competitions being the world silver medalist. I have to accept that it’s in the past and it doesn’t affect this season.”
Wagner’s performance at last year’s ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Boston was momentous for the United States because it was the first time an American woman stood on the podium at either the Olympic Winter Games or world championships in 10 years. It was especially momentous for Wagner not only because it marked her greatest achievement to date, but also because it happened on the same ice where she had one of her lowest moments.
As the defending U.S. champion at the 2014 national championships, Wagner fell on two out of six triple jumps to finish fourth. Despite that performance, though, Wagner was named to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu, and the floodgate of haters opened wide.
“After nationals in 2014 I had people telling me to jump off a bridge and end my life,” Wagner said, and even today a glance at some of Wagner’s social media accounts will show she still has some followers inexplicably obsessed with trolling her every move.
Wagner credits her many great fans, however, who did show her love and support for saving her career. Without feeling like someone was on her side, she said, who would want to open themselves up to so much negativity?
Today, Wagner is ready to put everything she has into getting to PyeongChang in 2018.
She’s trying a slightly different approach this season with her long program in that her music, “Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3,” by Muse, is not only mostly instrumental but also isn’t attached to a widely-known story, such as Romeo and Juliet or her most recent long program music from “Moulin Rouge.” The music begins with a slow piano before adding strings and other instruments as it slowly builds toward its crescendo from the 2:30 to 3:30 mark — the lyrics are just six lines long — then pulls back again for a moving finish with piano and strings.
“I think one of my strengths as a skater is that I am a storyteller and a performer,” she said. “This year I wanted to challenge myself because I’ve done so many story-based programs, and this is more a concept than anything else. It’s definitely challenging to have to tell a story without lyrics to tell people how they should be feeling and without any back story.”
The story, Wagner explained, is about losing someone who’s been important to you and a big part of your life, and ultimately learning to forgive, move on and be OK on your own.
“It’s been great for me because I’ve been able to create my own story, and it’s something I identify with,” she said.
Wagner most recently performed the new program at the Japan Open, where she came in third behind Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia and Satoko Miyahara of Japan.
“I was really happy with how the Japan Open went, so fresh into the season,” said Wagner, who scored 132.12 points. “To go out and get one of the highest scores in the first competition not being totally in run-through shape was huge for me. I’ve put in a lot of work since then to get the cardio going. I knew going into the competition that it wasn’t going to be there, but I wanted to get the jumps under pressure. The performance wasn’t there as a whole, but it was received well and I can build on that.”
Wagner will next compete at Skate America, where she said the main goal will be not only to perform well but also to pace herself so that she gets better and better approaching nationals and, beyond that, worlds as the buildup to the next Olympics continues.
That, and to love every minute of it.
“There is pressure to go get a world title, but that’s coming from me, not from the outside,” she said. “I don’t have anything to prove. I’m in the last couple years of my career and I feel like I’m getting better every year, so I want to enjoy skating while I still have it.”