Letdown in 2010 motivates US skating champ Wagner

Updated: March 12, 2013, 8:04 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON, Ontario -- Ashley Wagner knows her life would be a lot different had she made the Olympic team in 2010.

For starters, she'd probably be somewhere else this week.

"I would not be in this spot today if I had made the Olympic team. I know that for a fact," she said Tuesday. "I'd probably be done skating. I'd probably be finished up."

Instead, the two-time U.S. champion is at the World Figure Skating Championships, determined to do whatever she can to make sure no one else has to feel like she did three years ago.

"It definitely is a tall order to fill," she said. "But I think Gracie (Gold) and I, if we skate strong, we'll be able to get that third spot back for the country. And I personally want it back because I know how it feels to be third place at nationals where, every Olympic year prior, third place was good enough."

To earn the maximum three spots at an Olympics, a country's top two skaters have to finish with a combined placement of 13 or better -- fifth and eighth, for example -- at the world championships in the year before the Winter Games. That was once a given for the American women, who have won 26 world titles since 1953 and claimed at least one medal from 1970 through 1992.

Just once from 1928 to 2006 did they fail to qualify the maximum three skaters.

But the Americans lost their third spot before Vancouver, and Wagner found herself the odd woman out in 2010. Instead of letting it crush her, however, Wagner used the disappointment as motivation. She left her family and friends on the East Coast in the summer of 2011 and moved to southern California so she could train with John Nicks, best known as Sasha Cohen's coach.

Her fourth-place finish at last year's world championships was the best by a U.S. woman since 2007, and she won the silver medal at this season's Grand Prix Final.

"I don't really feel that (2010) hangs over me so much anymore because I feel that I've redeemed myself and come back as a stronger skater," Wagner said.

"There is so much I want to be able to accomplish in my career," she added. "The past two seasons with Mr. Nicks, I've been able to do a lot of that. The Olympic spot is that last thing I really want to be able to get on my resume."

First, though, she had to find her skates.

Wagner's flight out of Orange County, Calif., was delayed Monday afternoon, leaving her barely enough time to make her connecting flight to Toronto in San Francisco.

She made it. Her luggage -- and her skates -- did not.

"I'm a little bit worried my skates aren't going to make it in time. I can definitely say that," said Wagner, who had to skip her Tuesday morning practice. "I'm at worlds and I don't have my skates and it's definitely a weird feeling."

A U.S. Figure Skating official retrieved the skates when they arrived in Toronto on Tuesday afternoon, got them through customs and then made the two-hour drive to London, fighting rush-hour traffic in Toronto. The skates arrived just as Wagner's group took the ice for its second practice of the day, and the audience cheered when Wagner appeared just as the warm-up was ending.

"Things like this just make me take a step back and not get so intensely focused on one event," she said. "It's easy to go into worlds and say, `OK, I'm at worlds, I need to be serious and focused.' I don't have skates so I've got to relax a little bit."

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SPANISH CELEBRATION: Javier Fernandez was ready to head right back to his training base in Toronto after winning the European title in January.

No way, coach Brian Orser said. After all, it's not every day a Spanish skater wins a major figure skating title.

Not any day, actually.

"I told the team leader, `You need to change the ticket and bring him back to Madrid and get him a parade. If not a parade, get him exposed to how great this is. If even for two days," Orser recalled. "I know the economic situation in Spain is dire, and this was kind of a nice little feel-good thing for everybody in Spain, to have somebody win the European championships. Whether it does anything for the economy, I don't know but it certainly does something for morale.

"And it's really good for Spanish figure skating."

Spain is about as far from a figure skating hotbed as it gets, but Fernandez is changing that. The 21-year-old -- he turns 22 next month -- is a favorite for the men's title at this week's World Figure Skating Championships, and a small but boisterous crowd of Spanish fans has been at his practices, cheering and waving the Spanish flag.

"I try to keep that out of my mind and try to do what I'm doing in my practices and do my work in the competitions," Fernandez said. "(But) of course I have that in my mind that I want to make the sport famous in my country. I'll try my best."

Fernandez began skating because his sister was taking lessons, and quickly showed promise. But with few rinks or elite coaches in Spain, the Madrid resident knew he'd have to go elsewhere. He first moved to the United States to train with Nikolai Morozov. But Fernandez soon tired of Morozov's frequent moves between North America and Europe, and he and the Spanish skating federation began looking for another coach.

At the top of their list was Orser, the 1984 and '88 Olympic silver medalist who had led Kim Yu-na to gold in Vancouver.

"One of the worst things in my skating was the components, like my skating skills," Fernandez said. "That was the main thing why I wanted to move with Brian."

The improvement is both obvious and impressive. Once little more than a jumping bean, Fernandez now has the artistry to match his athleticism. What makes his whimsical Charlie Chaplin free skate so delightful are the moments of comedic relief: moves and expressions that are actually incredibly difficult to pull off.

Fernandez upset Patrick Chan at Skate Canada earlier this season, the two-time world champion's first loss in almost two years. Then came the European title.

"I think there's always more," Orser said of Fernandez's potential. "He likes being a top competitor now, I really believe that. I don't think he wants to be anything but."

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ICE CHIPS: At 33 years, seven months and 27 days, German pairs skater Robin Szolkowy is the oldest competitor at the world championships. Polish pairs skater Magdalena Klatka is the youngest at 15 years, 10 months and six days. ... The reigning champions in all four disciplines are back to defend their titles. ... This is the 10th time Canada has hosted the world championships.


Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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