Who Will Be Left Out? Mirai Nagasu Determined Not To Miss Another Olympic Team – So Is Ashley Wagner

By Karen Rosen | Jan. 06, 2018, 2:05 a.m. (ET)
(L-R) Mirai Nagasu, Bradie Tennell, Karen Chen and Ashley Wagner pose on the women's podium at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 5, 2018 in San Jose, Calif.

 

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Let the waiting begin.

And the speculation.

Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu, Karen Chen and Ashley Wagner each believe they deserve to represent the United States at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 based on their 1-2-3-4 finish at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and body of work the past two seasons.

Sometime between 10 p.m. Friday night and 5 a.m. Saturday morning (when the announcement will be broadcast on the “TODAY” show), three will receive a text saying that a selection committee has chosen them for Team USA.

The fourth will get the crushing news that she is staying home.

Four years ago, the odd woman out was Nagasu despite finishing third at nationals. She scored eight points more than Wagner, but the committee felt that Wagner was more consistent and sent her to Sochi.

Nagasu is confident she made her case Friday night. “I think I really, really put in my vote for the Olympic team,” said Nagasu, who was an Olympian in 2010 and would be the first American women’s singles skater to return to the Games after missing an edition.

“That’s a long time,” said Nagasu, the 2008 national champion, “and I know that. This is about my journey and that decision hasn’t been made yet, so there is always that chance that I will be skipped over again.

“But right now I’m enjoying that performance. The training that went into it, to have it come to fruition like it did tonight makes me really emotional and I cannot wait for the decision to come out.”

Download the Team USA app today for breaking news, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, videos and more.

Nagasu, 24, is the only American woman attempting a triple axel. She two-footed it and stepped forward out of it during her “Miss Saigon” routine, but it still electrified the crowd.

She scored 140.75 points in the free skate for a total of 213.84. Only Tennell, who scored 145.72 with her Cinderella routine and finished with 219.51 points ranked ahead of her.

“I’m the oldest here tonight,” said Nagasu, “but I really feel like the comeback kid.”

If Chen, the 2017 national champion, thought she had a sleepless night after the short program when she was coming down with a virus, she could be in for another one Friday.

She was fourth in the free skate, scoring 129.11 for her “Jealousy Tango” but had enough points from the short program to give her 198.59 points. That was 2.40 points ahead of Wagner, who debuted her “La La Land” program for 130.25 points.

Wagner won’t go down without a fight. She believes the judges didn’t give her the scores she deserved for her artistry and presentation in both her short program and free skate.

“I am absolutely furious,” Wagner said. “For me to put out the two programs that I did at this competition as solid as I skated and to get those scores, I am furious and I think deservedly so. I am a performer and that second mark is just not there.  I am absolutely OK with them being strict on my rotations – that’s what I think U.S. Figure Skating should demand of their judges, but it needs to be across the board and I don’t think it necessarily has been.”

Wagner said she was proud of her program, which was only a month old after she switched from her “Moulin Rouge” routine that she skated during the grand prix season.

When she saw her scores while sitting in the “Kiss and Cry” area, Wagner frowned, shook her head and arched an eyebrow.

“We’ll see how things pan out,” she said. “I feel like I need to stick up for myself and I think that I delivered when I really needed to. And I think all of these girls delivered when they needed to, but I want to be on that Olympic team and I’m really mad that I’m in this position again.”

In 2014, Wagner won a bronze medal in the inaugural Olympic team event and was seventh in the individual event while Gracie Gold, who is not competing this season, finished fourth.

Wagner, a three-time national champion in 2012, 2013 and 2015, said it was up to the selection committee to assess what she has done this season compared to the other skaters. Wagner earned a bronze medal at Skate Canada and withdrew from Skate America with an injury.

“I don’t like this position that I’m in,” said Wagner, who two-footed her landing on her triple lutz and also made it more of a “flutz.” “You can always say that I put myself in this spot, but I think I had some help getting there today.”

Chen also made a strong argument to qualify for her first Olympic team, but wasn’t as adamant about it as Wagner.

“Whatever the decision is, as much as I want to be on that team, and I do,” Chen said, “I’ve done all I can and it’s up to other people to make that decision.”

However, it should be noted that it was Chen’s fourth-place finish at the 2017 world championships that was crucial to giving Team USA three berths instead of dropping down to two after Wagner was seventh and Mariah Bell 12th.

And Chen, who has been mentored by Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi, performed Friday after being sick with a virus that kept her up all night after the short program in a lot of discomfort.

“I am just so proud of myself for everything I got done today,” Chen said. “Yesterday, I wasn’t able to practice. I was really sick and stuck in bed for the majority of my time and spent the hole morning going to doctors.”

She said she just tried to keep thinking positive and visualize the perfect skate. “I was using every inch of strength within me to keep going and keep fighting and keep pushing.”

Chen said she didn’t want any regret. “I didn’t want to let that weakness take over and let the cold or the virus win,” she said. “I kept saying that over and over in my head until I believed it and I kept skating with my heart.”

Watching it all was Gold, the 2014 and 2016 national champion, who tweeted her thoughts.

“I’m glad I’m not on the women’s selection committee,” she tweeted. “Gives me anxiety just thinking about it.”