by Lois Elfman
“I’m always hungry for more, always hungry to see what else I can do and how I can top that last performance.” said Ashley Wagner, who performed exhilarating programs to win her third U.S. ladies title in January in Greensboro. “I am very competitive.”
Wagner, 23, a longtime resident of Northern Virginia who currently lives and trains in Southern California, still considers this home. Next week she heads to Shanghai, China for the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships with her sights set on winning a medal.
Pacing has played a big part in Wagner’s success thus far this season. She took about a week and a half off after the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and passed on competing at the ISU Four Continents Championships in order to be in optimal physical and mental shape for Worlds. Once she was refreshed, she created a game plan to thoroughly prepare.
“Raf (coach Rafael Arutunian) and I worked really closely together figuring out the timing of everything,” she said. “What I was going to start doing full run-throughs and when I was going to start adding sections on top of the full run-throughs. I’ve been eased into the full training process, and I think that has helped me be sure that I last to the end of the season, but also make sure I’m fully prepared for Worlds.”
“I have been focusing on building and building and building,” said Wagner. “Hopefully, I can continue that trend going into Worlds. My training has been going great. At this point, all I have left to do is stay calm and let myself skate.”
Her mother made the trip to California to be with Wagner for a few days before heading to Shanghai.
Wagner has been fierce and focused this season, intent on showing those who said she should retire after competing at last year’s Olympic Winter Games that she is just getting started. Arutunian has improved her technical skills, bolstered her confidence and honed her approach. She has not made any significant changes to her programs since Nationals.
“I have a very strong base and that way when mentally I’m kind of unsure, I can kind of let go and rely on the work that I’ve put in so that way the programs feel secure,” she said. “I’m going to need to not leave anything on the table. I need to get all the levels on my spins and my footwork and have a clean edge Lutz.”
No U.S. lady has medaled at the World Championships since Kimmie Meissner won gold in 2006. Wagner said she and teammates Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds, who won gold at Four Continents, are poised to be serious medal contenders.
“As a more experienced skater, I can offer a level of emotional connection through my performances,” Wagner said. “Beyond that, I feel that because I’ve been around for so long I’ve lived through it all. I have a ton of experience competing. Although it’s a learning process and it never gets easier, I think that I’m familiar with the process.
“Now, I’m learning more about myself as an athlete and how I want to be prepared and train, so there aren’t any surprises for me.”
So come next week, look for no flutzing (entering the Lutz on the wrong edge), strong spins, confident jumps and emotive choreography.
“I am so lucky to be in this sport,” said Wagner, who will tour with Stars on Ice Canada after the World Championships. “My job is to perform in front of thousands of people and I could not be any more in love with it.
“It’s paying off and it makes the hard days for me easier to push through because I know that if I put in the work I will be able to feel the way that I felt at the end of my program at Nationals. Nothing beats having an audience on their feet for you.”