Ice Network

Wagner, Gold hit Champs Camp in different places

Top U.S. ladies prep for new season with highs, lows of worlds still fresh
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Gracie Gold (left) and Ashley Wagner had vastly different experiences at the 2016 World Championships, and their offseasons have contrasted sharply as well. -Getty Images

Ashley Wagner is doing double duty in Colorado Springs this week: taking part in Champs Camp and choreographing her new short program.

"I'm getting it done here, because Jeff Buttle is in town," she said. "I'm a little late. I had a bit of a chaotic choreography season."

Last month, Wagner announced via Instagram she would perform her 2016-17 free skate to "Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3 (Redemption)" by Muse.

Turns out, this is the second free skate she and Shae-Lynn Bourne created for this season.

"(For) the first program, we settled on the music the night before I came to Shae (in Toronto), and I think I kind of panicked when I picked it," Wagner said. "I got home and started running the program, and it felt very similar to the Romeo and Juliet piece (Wagner's 2013-14 free skate). I didn't want another season when I kind of doubted the performance."

During Wagner's next visit to Bourne, instead of choreographing a short, the duo worked up a new free skate to Muse. By then, spring had turned to summer.

"I had to make that choice: Do I give up some more time and interrupt my training to go get a short or do I just kind of adjust everything?" she said. "And this is what Raf [Arutunian] and I decided worked best."

Wagner isn't sure about short program music but knows it will be "lighthearted and fun," to contrast the intensely emotional "Exogenesis."

"Short programs are stressful enough for me," she said. "I do better when it's something that feels like it's an exhibition. So we'll see in a couple of days."

Typical Wagner problem-solving: Take a level-headed inventory, emphasize your strengths, apply salve where needed -- and if a reporter asks about it, don't sugarcoat. The approach has helped her win three U.S. titles and break a near decade-long medal drought by U.S. ladies at the world championships, where she won silver last March in Boston.

"I am totally aware of the kind of athlete I am," she said. "Do I have the technical side? Yes, but I can be beat on the technical side. I won my silver medal because I performed a program -- I told a story, I drew the audience in. Going into these next few seasons, I need to make sure I pick pieces of music that help me utilize the skills I already have and build on them."

Wagner finished the bulk of her show commitments this spring, clearing a large swath of summer for intense training with Arutunian in Lakewood, California. Their No. 1 target: firming up the skater's combinations, which were occasionally judged under-rotated last season.

"We want the (triple) flip-(triple) toe even more secure and solid," she said. "We're working on making the jumps bigger and (adding) more complicated entrances.

It's been a hard summer; Raf has never really had a month and a half with me in town to just kind of do whatever he wants. We've been playing around with a lot of stuff, and it's been paying off."

The skater also took aim at a more annoying nemesis.

"I hate spins with a burning passion, but the points are right there," Wagner said. "A great example of my spins holding me back would be nationals this year. I popped a lutz in the free skate, but if I had rotated it, would I have won? Absolutely not. My spins and my footwork levels and my transitions held me back."

So early this month, Wagner spent three days in San Francisco with "spin doctor" Charyl Brusch, who put her to work practicing simple sit and upright spins.

"She just kind of stripped everything down and had me go back to basics," the skater said. "It was awesome. I plan on going back later this season and building on that."

Gold takes U-turn to new season

Wagner ended 2015-16 on her highest note, caught her breath and then buckled down to work. Things were more complicated for Gracie Gold.

The U.S. champion led after the short program at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, but two mistakes in the free skate dropped her to fourth place, the second year in a row she finished one spot off the podium at the event.

"It just is a really, really terrible moment for me and my skating," the shaken skater told reporters in Boston.

At first, activity kept the demons at bay: There was the 2016 Team Challenge Cup and Stars on Ice tour, and then travel to Toronto to get new programs from Lori Nichol. But that whirlwind only lasted until June.

"I've had some struggles," Gold said. "June and July were really hard for me. That's when worlds depression really hit. I was on vacation. I had a lot of down time."

She and twin sister Carly traveled to Tokyo for a week, and then a week later to Sheffield, England, for a photo shoot and video for John Wilson Blades. That was followed by three nights in Dublin, Ireland.

"I essentially didn't skate the month of July, is what happened," Gold said. "I think I was at Toyota (Sports Center) four days for the entire month."

Recharged, she severed herself from last season's disappointment -- not a moment too soon for coach Frank Carroll's taste.

"Frank said, 'OK, we have three weeks until Champs Camp. C'mon Gracie, it's really time to get moving,'" she said. "So, I am back up on the horse now. That was last season, now we're moving on to this season."

Gold, Carroll and Nichol are trying new approaches with the skater's programs, a short to "Assassin's Tango" by John Powell from the Mr. and Mrs. Smith soundtrack and a free to Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé.

"My last year's tango was more classic. This one is dirtier, as Frank says. You just picture Angelina Jolie as this drop-dead gorgeous assassin," Gold said in reference to Jolie's character in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

"The free skate was harder," she continued. "We decided we wanted the total other end of the spectrum from (last season's) 'Firebird.' We were lost in a sea of music and I was starting to fade, thinking we're not gong to find anything, and then we heard the step sequence (in Daphnis et Chloé, 'Danse Generale').

Perhaps to further exorcise her Boston demons, Gold changed up the free skate layout and content.

"We're starting with my choreographed sequence, kind of a throwback to Michelle [Kwan], and then we're jumping double axel before we go into the triple lutz-triple toe, followed by triple loop," Gold said. "We're jumping double axel-(half loop)-triple salchow instead of my beloved axel-toe, because we're trying to repeat the triple flip. So the second half of the program runs axel-sal, flip and flip-double toe, and it ends with triple lutz."

That layout takes a less consistent jump -- the triple flip -- head on.

"I had some issues (with the flip) in the short program last season, edge calls and doubling, but everything is kind of a new reality in skating," Gold said. "We're trying new entrances, really jam-packing the second half of the free, and then ending with the step sequence and two spins."

Gold didn't compete this summer. She plans to unveil her new short at the Golden West Championships early next month, and, like Wagner, will compete her free at Japan Open on Oct. 1.

"Last season, my first competition was in June, and I was killing it all year," she said. "Sometimes bad things still happen. I just wasn't the world champion when I needed to be. So I thought, 'Why not try a new way?'"

Champs Camp chatter:  Around this time last year, Karen Chen was skating in an old pair of younger brother Jeffrey's boots. After working with a new boot company for several months, she kicks off this season in a much better place. "She's right on track," her coach, Tammy Gambill, said. "We're working on getting everything stronger and more consistent, and skating big." Chen loves her programs, a short to On Golden Pond and free to "Jealousy Tango," both choreographed by Jonathan Cassar. "I love how creative and understanding he is," Chen said. "If something doesn't work so well, he always has options." ... Angela Wang, who will join Wagner and Gold at Skate America (Oct. 21-23), spent a month in Sun Valley, Idaho, this summer working with 2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley: "He helps me with the training aspect and giving me confidence in myself. He is able to grab your eye when he skates, and that's something I'm trying to learn from him." Wang plans a triple flip-triple toe in both programs this season, as well as a triple loop-half loop-triple salchow in her free skate, choreographed by Buttle to music from The Notebook. Her short, choreographed by Phillip Mills, is set to Katharine McPhee's rendition of "Over the Rainbow."