The ladies’ podium at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships was perhaps the most difficult to stand on in the history of the event. Each medalist attempted a triple-triple combination in both the short and long programs, but only one was age-eligible to compete at the World Championships in Sweden. Ashley Wagner, who was 16 at the time, won the bronze medal at her first try at the senior level at the national championships.
Wagner, who won silver at the 2006-07 Junior Grand Prix Final, began last season with an impressive debut on the senior Grand Prix circuit. She placed fifth at Skate Canada, and then followed up with a bronze at Trophée Eric Bompard two weeks later.
But after the high of making the World Team, Wagner quickly came back down to earth with a disappointing placement at the Four Continents Championships. Suddenly, Wagner was not receiving full credit for her jumps, often being penalized for using the the wrong take-off edge on her Lutz jump.
“I was sixteen years old and at the World Championships,” gushed Wagner. “It was such an incredible feeling, and I was honored to represent my country. I wasn’t happy with my placement, but that was only because I knew I had the potential to place better than I did.”
Following her disappointment at the World Championships, Wagner came home and decided that she needed a change. Wagner decided to part ways with her coach, Shirley Hughes, and asked Priscilla Hill to train her for the upcoming 2008-09 season.
“This was the first change that wasn’t brought on because of the military (her father being geographically relocated). Priscilla was the first person who came to mind. She has tons of spunk and charisma, and she is very technical. With the new system, being technical is something a skater needs to have. I am so excited to be working with her this season.”
Hill was eager to take on Wagner, but knew that there were some things that they needed to work on. “We’ve gone back to the drawing board on a few things,” said Hill. “I let Ashley know what I think needs to be better and how to address them. It is a process that it evolving.” “The lutz was the first issue that Priscilla and I approached,” added Wagner.
“We have been working on Ashley’s stroking, speed, and overall maturity level,” Hill continued. “Our goal is to present Ashley as a real polished senior lady who skates to the music, as opposed to a skater who has music playing while she skates.”
The season has already begun for Wagner as she has two club competitions under her belt. In July, Wagner debuted her new short program to Maksim Mrvica’s version of Somewhere in Time at the Liberty Summer Competition. Skating a clean program complete with a triple Lutz that was given full credit, Wagner handily won the competition with a striking new look in both appearance and in her skating.
Following her impressive debut at Liberty, it was decided that Wagner would participate in the Dupage Open in order to also debut her new new free skate to the Bolshoi Ballet’s version of Aram Katchaturian’s Spartacus. Wagner won both the long and short program segments of the competition with a total of 166.45 points.
Philip Mills choreographed Wagner’s short program, while Olympian Irina Romanova constructed the free skate. “Irina has been working with Ashley on a daily basis,” Hill explained, “and it has helped with the composition mark. I think that people are really going to see a difference in her skating, and I hope that they like Ashley’s new look.”
“In addition to all of the changes to Ashley’s skating, what makes her such a successful competitor is that she doesn’t like to miss anything,” Hill added. “That is a great asset in a skater.”
Wagner began skating at the tender age of five in Eagle River, Alaska, when her mother gave her the option to skate or take dance lessons. “My mom was cooped up in the house with me and my three-year old brother,” Wagner explained. “I guess she had had enough, because one day she asked me if I wanted to do ballet or if I wanted to skate. I wasn’t big on the whole pink shoes and tutus deal, so I chose to skate.”
Wagner believes that her high level of endurance is what sets her apart from her competition, and believes that the improvements in style that she has made this season, she could be a contender. “I’m able to keep up my energy to the end of a program, and now I am working on doing that and keeping it pretty.”
Hill agrees, but adds, “Ashley has a great athlete’s body. She is just so strong and that is how she is able to pull off the triple-triples. She is also very flexible.”
Wagner’s long-term goal is to be a part of the 2010 Olympic Team, and she understands the importance of improving to make that goal a reality. “I plan to practice, practice, practice. And I think after that, a little more practice,” gushed Wagner. “I would also love to get a quad.”
In the short term, however, Wagner would like to compete at the World Championships in Los Angeles this season. Hill agrees, “I hope that Ashley will definitely be the top 1 or 2 at nationals, and I think that she has the potential to do that. I also want her to be proud of how much hard work that she has put in, and be excited about where she is in this pre-Olympics year.”
Outside of skating, Wagner has a wide range of interests from reading to sports medicine, and might one day like to try her hand (or mouth) at commentating. But one thing stands out as a must-do after her skating career comes to a close.
“First things first, I’m going skiing,” stated Wagner. “Because of skating, I have to be smart about the things I do in my free time, and I can’t risk anything.”
Wagner’s family consists of her father, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army who now works for Honeywell, her mother who is a former schoolteacher, and Ashley’s younger brother, Austin, who is also a figure skater on the novice level.
“We also have a zoo!” exclaimed Wagner. “We have two cats, two dogs, a frog, and tons of fish.”
Due to her coaching change, Wagner has been forced to change her education routine as she begins her senior year in high school. “Since my mom was a teacher, my education is always something that is stressed in my family,” she explained. “I have always pushed for being enrolled in public schools and opting out of the home-schooling route. I want to show kids that you don’t have to give up everything for your sport. Because I am now training in Delaware, I am going to take some online classes my senior year in high school.”
Wagner will be performing next week at Stars, Stripes, and Skates on September 28, in Danbury, Conn. – an event that benefits the Heritage Foundation of 9/11. Wagner’s international season begins in November at the Cup of China, and she will compete a few weeks later at NHK Trophy in Tokyo, Japan.
“I am very excited and pleased with my assignments,” said Wagner. “Of course, they are pretty close to each other so it will be a lot of traveling back and forth, but it’s going to be exciting. I want to place well at both events, and make it to the Grand Prix Final.”