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Determination paying dividends for Wagner

Wagner undecided about triple-triple combination

Ashley Wagner has worked exhaustively on her Lutz in the offseason.
Ashley Wagner has worked exhaustively on her Lutz in the offseason. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/13/2010) - Some who know her well think there's nothing Ashley Wagner can't do, once her mind is set.

"The best part about Ashley is that she's a very strong person," said the skater's choreographer, Irina Romanova.

"When she decides she needs to do something, she'll do it no matter what. It actually sometimes gets in the way, but its one of her best sides."

The 18-year-old will need every ounce of that determination come next Friday, when the ladies take the ice for their short program in Spokane.

"Whoever makes it on to the U.S. Olympic team is going to have two solid, well-put-together programs," Wagner said. "The Olympic year hardest, because there's just so much more pressure. Everyone is watching you.

"There's so much competition among the U.S. ladies now. We're all fighting for two spots, and even second place isn't guaranteed that spot."

U.S. Figure Skating's athlete selection procedure may consider not only the 2010 U.S. Championships, but prior competitions, including the 2009/2010 Grand Prix Final; 2009 World Championships; 2009 Four Continents; 2009 World Junior Championships; and 2009/2010 World Junior Grand Prix Final.

To win a ticket to Vancouver, Wagner knows she needs to deliver a good performance of her Once Upon a Time in America program. Last season in Cleveland, she landed in 12th place after the short, and despite winning the free skate with six clean triples, three in combination, she only climbed to fourth place, missing a spot on the U.S. world team.

"Obviously the short was terrible, and I was surprised," she said. "I didn't see that coming. I was really prepared for nationals. I think after that first jump I just freaked out, even though usually I'm pretty good at keeping my cool.

"After the short I thought about what I wanted to accomplish and what I was capable of doing. I had nothing to lose for the long program so I just went out there. I could skate just for the fun of it."

Wagner, a 2009 graduate of Potomac High School who dreams of becoming a sports psychologist, gained even more experience with her fourth-place finish at this season's Grand Prix Final, where she was the only U.S. lady qualifier.

"The short program, I was a little bit hesitant, and I held back a little bit," the skater, who was sixth after the short, recalled. "Going into the long program, I learned my lesson. I realized that holding back from everything wasn't going to get me where I wanted to go, so I just went for it."

Wagner, who trains in Wilmington, Del., under Priscilla Hill, will have some extra support in Spokane: Tara Lipinski has been mentoring the teen since last spring, and the 1998 Olympic champion will be on hand as one of the voices of icenetwork, commentating on some of the events.

Hill approached Lipinski at the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles and found she was only too willing to help Wagner.

"I first met Tara when I went to L.A. for an NBC promotional event," Wagner said. "We went to her house in Santa Monica and had dinner. For the first 20 minutes I could barely speak, and Priscilla had to translate for me.

"Tara is a great person. I like that she's so down-to-earth. I wanted to know how she dealt with the Olympic-year pressure and what kept her sane, things I can apply to my life. So she gave me some advice and told me what worked for her."

Wagner is especially inspired by her mentor's triple loop-triple loop combination, which helped her win gold in Nagano.

"She did triple loop with everything, and for me, I really like triple loop combinations, so I kind of like that parallel," Wagner said. "I've always admired the strength and spunkiness she put in her skating. She brought something new and exciting to it."

Wagner is still uncertain whether she will risk her triple, triple combination in Spokane.

"I've just been doing a lot of run-throughs, with back-to-back sessions, and anything I can do to help my endurance," she said.

"We're still kind of on the fence right now. With the triple-triple in general, you have to be going for it 100 percent, or else it's not going to happen . . . I would say probably by the time I leave [for Spokane] I would have to make up my mind."

McLaughlin, Brubaker hope for three-peat
Pairs kick off the senior events at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday, and two-time champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker have been working hard to keep their hard-won title.

The team hasn't made any significant changes to their programs, both choreographed by Sarah Kawahara, spending most of their training time refining their movements and building in muscle memory.

"After [placing fourth at] Skate America, we broke down our programs and worked on each little section and what we can do to improve our relationship between each other and our choreography," McLaughlin said.

"Plus we do lots of run-throughs, long and short every day, and sections on top of that. And then for me, Mr. Nicks has been doing jumping drills, which means that I have to do each of my jumps three times in a row and if I mess up on one of them, I have to start over."

Since moving from Colorado Springs to California to train under veteran coach John Nicks last spring, the team's focus has shifted somewhat from physical, to mental preparation.

"If a mistake happens on an element, [Mr. Nicks] might not always give us a technical correction," Brubaker explained. "It might be he just wants us to focus more on the landing, or teach us to, even if it is off, fight for that landing." Brubaker added that efficient training and good stamina might not add up to a pristine performance, but the key is to forget about mistakes and move on.

"If you open up a program and you miss a jump or step out of a throw, it's about making the judges and the audience almost forget about the mistake and go right back into the choreography," he said.

"That's not something you can just do all of a sudden in competition, that's something you practice on a day-to-day basis. Some days it's easier than others but the more you strive to do that, the more confident you can be."

While McLaughlin and Brubaker are favored to win their third U.S. title, they will face tough competition from U.S. silver medalists Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, who defeated them in the short program at last season's U.S. Championships; and Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, the two-time U.S. champions who landed a spectacular throw triple Axel at Trophee Eric Bompard in October and also won bronze at NHK Trophy.