The last time that Ashley Wagner competed in Boston at TD Gardens she had a very different experience than reigning national champion Gracie Gold. In 2014 Wagner came into the U.S. Championships as the favorite, but struggled and came in fourth place, missing the podium and almost missed making the Olympic Team. It was not the experience that she had always dreamt about. Now Ashley prepares to return to that same city and the same ice arena with hopes for a completely different outcome at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships.
“I can’t wait to go back into Boston and create some happier memories,” Wagner said in a media call on March 17. “Of course making the Olympic Team was one of the happiest memories I have, but it wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I’m ready to just go in and show people that I’m an athlete that can put it together and reset the feeling of that rink.” Ashley seems to enjoy having something to prove and she will be going into the World Championships in just that position as she faltered at the 2016 U.S. Championships in January. Wagner was one of the favorites and was expected to defend her title, but she finished in a disappointing third.
“I think that it was a blessing in disguise that I’m not going into the World Championships as the frontrunner, there’s not that extra pressure on me,” Ashley explained. “I love to skate as the underdog, I think that is usually when I am my strongest. I’m ready to go out there and deliver.” Wagner has competed at the World Championships four times and her highest finish was in 2012 when she finished in fourth place. Ashley certainly has some ground to make up and has struggled with consistency this season, but her new method of training is giving her confidence that this years outcome may be different than the past.
Ashley Wagner started working with Russian coach Rafael Arutunian three years ago and feels as though her training has taken a new direction due to their partnership. “The easiest way that I can summarize it is it’s a cultural change,” Ashley said. “Working with a Russian coach in the way that they bring up their skaters, the way that they expect their skaters to train every single day, it’s completely different than any other coach that I have worked with.” Wagner went on to explain that the difference to her from an American coach versus a Russian coach was the way that they expect you to really begin your training was once your “legs are dead” and your body is tired. She explained that she is pushed physically to her limits and then has to perform her programs and deliver her jumps so that in competition, regardless of how her body feels, she will be ready for whatever challenges come her way.
“I’ve had to kind of learn how to train like a Russian, if you will,” Ashley said. “I’m hard-headed and I think I definitely pushed against it for awhile because I wanted to show him [Rafael] that I could still do it the way that I’ve done it for years and years and years and it works like that, but he definitely won. The way that I’m training now he is completely satisfied with, so that says a lot to me.” Wagner acknowledges her inconsistency this season specifically, and explains that it’s because she’s working with Rafael and he has changed her technique. Ashley believes that her jumps will eventually stabilize as time goes on and new habits are formed.
Though Wagner understands that changing her technique is a process, she found herself frustrated coming home for the U.S. Championships. She knew that Gracie had beat her fair and square as Wagner missed the triple lutz in her free skate, but she still didn’t understand why Gracie had won by such a large margin. Ashley had a total of 197.88 points, whereas Gracie accumulated a total of 210.46 points.
Wagner and her coach went back and reviewed her performance and realized that she could improve on her spins, footwork, connecting elements and difficulty leading into each of the jumps. Since then they have begun working on these improvements and making her movements more precise so that she can accumulate as many points as possible. Ashley opted not to compete at the Four Continents Championships to allow herself a larger chunk of time to train leading into the World Championships. “In the span of two months I have completely upgraded the kind of skater that I am,” Wagner said with confidence.
The competition will be stiff at the World Championships as the Japanese and Russians have dominated the ladies podium over the past few years. When asked once again about the U.S. ladies 10 year drought on the world podium, Ashley was quick to remind everyone that the field has changed and the competition has intensified. “Internationally, I think we are seeing a competitive scene that we have never had to go up against before,” Wagner explained. “The Russians are strong. The Japanese are strong. … The field has just changed so dramatically since the ’90s, since the early 2000s.”
That being said, Ashley is still hungry for a world medal and is hopeful that this will be her year. “It’s motivating. The idea of having a World medal in the U.S.—that would be an awesome moment to have,” Wagner said. “I really do feel like I am prepared. I feel calm, I feel confident, it’s just time to go do the job.”