Wagner refuses to play it safe in the short

After two disappointments, seeks "redemption"

Ashley Wagner (right) and coach Priscilla Hill hope for big results in Greensboro.
Ashley Wagner (right) and coach Priscilla Hill hope for big results in Greensboro. (Lynn Rutherford)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/25/2011) - Ashley Wagner is one skater who might be forgiven for playing it safe with her short program this week.

The 19-year-old, who trains in Wilmington, Del., under Priscilla Hill, fell on a triple Lutz in her short at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Although she placed second in the free skate, her Vancouver Olympic dreams ended with the fall, and she settled for her second U.S. bronze medal.

In 2009, Wagner had one of her worst short programs ever, placing 12th. Even though she won the free skate, it was too little, too late and she placed fourth, off of the U.S. world team.

This time around, Wagner is banking on some new-found confidence -- and a new-found triple flip- triple toe loop combination -- to change the tide.

"The short was my nemesis at nationals," Wagner admitted after her morning practice today.

"This season I have to go for everything and not hold back. I think last season at nationals I did go for everything; I went for the Lutz a little too much and it was a little too big. It's a really strong field here in Greensboro and this is not the time to be conservative. I just have to go all out."

Coach Hill nodded as Wagner spoke, and then revealed a long-term outlook beyond the U.S. Championships.

"We're looking at it as yes, of course, we want to get out of the U.S. [and qualify for Four Continents and worlds], but I want her to be one of the top ladies in the world. To do that, the combination we have in the short is what she needs. This is where you practice it and get it out there."

Wagner, who enjoyed a solid Grand Prix -- placing 5th at NHK Trophy and winning bronze at Cup of Russia -- hit the triple-triple in her short program practice here and also had some success with it this fall.

"It's been going really well," she said. "I actually got full credit for it in Russia, which was huge. I think every season before that I promised a triple-triple in my program and its been MIA, so I'm glad I was able to live up to my word.

"I've been feeling really confident with it. We'll see how this week goes. Hopefully it will be there in the short and the long."

To increase her comfort level in the short, Wagner returned to last season's program, set to music from Once Upon a Time in America, after using a Led Zeppelin short in her summer competitions.

"It was getting down to the wire for NHK, and for some programs, you just don't click with them," she said.

"I still didn't feel like I was really into it. My choreographer, Irina Romanova, had given me amazing choreography [to "Kashmir"] and I loved it, but for some reason it wasn't sticking. We just love [the Once Upon a Time in America] short program, and I feel it's my chance at redemption this nationals."

In addition to the triple-triple, Wagner also plans a challenging double Axel-triple toe combination in her free skate, choreographed by Romanova to "Malaguena."

"When I got home, we decided to kind of mix it up this year and I took more of a break over the holiday season," Wagner said. "I felt that we had a good season so far and I kind of needed a little bit of a downtime.

"About a month and a half ago, or maybe a month ago, we started to kick in full training and started doing full run-throughs of both programs. Since then it's just been work, work, work."

Work Wagner and Hill hope will pay off with her first national title and first U.S. world team since 2008, when she placed 16th. Two U.S. ladies will compete at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo in March.

"I feel pretty good about the jumps; I think she's got them," Hill said. "She's done all the training she can do and she's in a good spot."