Ashley Wagner has been competing at the senior U.S. Figure Skating Championships since 2008 when she was only 16 years-old. Over the years Wagner has captured one bronze and three gold medals from the National Championships. She returns this season with the hope of defending her national title and adding yet another medal to her growing collection.
Ashley started out the season with a bang winning Skate Canada. From there she came in fourth at the NHK Trophy and qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the fourth consecutive year. It was there that she began to unravel as she had a less than stellar short program. Wagner fought back in the free skate, achieving her international-best score and finished 1.32 points away from the podium. “It’s always a learning process with me,” Wagner said in a U.S. Figure Skating teleconference on Jan. 15. “I think that it shows that when I go out and I am skating my best this season, I’m getting personal bests, pushing my limits so I know that I’m capable of much much more…I think that these programs are put together really well and now it’s just up to me to skate them.”
Having been in the sport for so many years, Ashley Wagner has struggled this season with finding her purpose. “I’ve been at the senior level essentially for 10 years, I’ve been skating for almost 20,” Wagner said. “Skating has been a huge chapter in my life. It’s completely natural at this point to kind of have those moments of doubt because I feel like everywhere I look there’s a newer, fresher, younger skater who is coming up that is technically sound and solid and practically undefeatable. It’s never-ending. I think that for me, I am always having to work that much harder to stay relevant, to stay in shape, to keep on pushing the envelope. I know that 24 isn’t old, but at the same time for this sport it’s not young,” She continued. “I think that I’m just at a point in my skating career where I see the end in sight and it’s making me think a little bit more about what I want to do with the small amount of time I have left, so that creates a whole new type of pressure.”
So what does she want to do with the “small amount of time” she has left in the sport? “I want that World title,” Ashley said. “I think that’s a tall order, by far, but I also think that if I go out and put out a solid program and performance, technically, I think that’s not entirely out of the question.” The U.S. ladies have not made the podium at the World Championships since 2006. Wagner came in fourth in 2012 and fifth at the 2015 World Championships.
Some might think that being a veteran could help Wagner, especially leading into her eighth U.S. Championships, but having so many experiences at the same event does not necessarily equate to solid performances for her. “Historically at least, I do best when I’m coming from behind and I’m the underdog and I’m having to fight my way back, that’s usually my best position,” Wagner confessed. “The biggest test for me is when I put out a solid short program and what am I going to do with that long program am I going to be able to keep the momentum or what’s going to happen? Even though I am considered a veteran I don’t think that you ever really know how to push through a program that is not going your way because the scene is always changing. The pressures that I’m feeling change as well. It’s never really the same feeling going out there. I can try and learn as much as I can from my experiences, but at the same time it never gets any easier.”
Being a seasoned skater may not necessarily help Ashley get better results, but her perseverance and dedication has helped to keep her competitive even amongst the younger skaters. Where most female figure skaters are retiring at Ashley’s age, she has managed to only improve from year-to-year and brings a maturity to her skating that not many younger skater posses. “I’m extremely stubborn,” Wagner admits. “At 24 I really don’t think that any other top lady has improved as much technically as I have at my age. I think that is something that is rare. I think that it is definitely something that I am proud of. Skating is what I put my heart and soul into. I work so hard every single day to be this athlete and that just goes to show the kind of person that I am—stubborn and hard-headed. If you tell me I can’t do something I’m going to do everything I can to show you that you’re wrong.”
Ashley admits that this season specifically has been difficult for her as she has questioned why she is still skating and pushing herself so hard. In the midst of the struggle, Wagner has decided to stay the course and reminds herself of her love of the sport regardless of its constant challenges. “After the Grand Prix Final I kind of realized that it’s not about questioning what I’m doing here,” Ashley said. “It’s kind of focusing on the fact that I’m here. I’ve said that I want to be here now I need to skate like I want to be here.”
This season Wagner has done some altitude training in Colorado with her coach in preparation for the U.S. Championships, which will be held in Saint Paul, Minnesota next week. Ashley was grateful for the change of environment which allowed her to focus in a greater way and prepare for the second half of her season. “I came into Nationals last year with a plan and I step-by-step accomplished exactly what I wanted to do and I think that just kind of showed me that I am capable of following a program, accomplishing what I want and then moving forward,” Ashley said. “For me it reinforced the idea that if I go in knowing what I want and have a way of getting there, that I’ll be able to get there.”