GOLDEN GIRL: ASHLEY WAGNER
by Sarah S. Brannen
Ashley Wagner is still looking upward. After a breakout season last year in which she won the 2012 U.S. title, followed by a gold medal at the Four Continents championships and a strong fourth-place finish at the world championships, the beautiful blonde 21-year-old wants more.
“Last season was so much more than I had ever expected,” Wagner said. “I was proud of myself and a little surprised. Going into next season I’ve given myself a pretty daunting task to continue on that upward slope. I need to keep working the same way. I hope I can add that little bit that’s going to put me on the podium at Worlds.”
Looking ahead to the 2013-14 season, Wagner is clear that her goal is the Olympics. In 2010, her U.S. bronze medal left her just one place off the team.
“I think it’s pretty obvious for anyone that knows anything about my history that my main goal is to make the team,” Wagner said. “I came as close as you can last time and it was heartbreaking. I need to be on the team, after everything I’ve given up and everything I’ve done. I think I’ve put myself in a really good spot to be there.”
Wagner has been to Boston many times and says that she loves the city.
“I like all the history,” she said. “I love that 2014 Nationals is on the East Coast. The people are great skating fans and extremely nice, so I think it’s the perfect place to hold the qualifying Nationals. I’m so excited to see what they come up with.”
Wagner, the daughter of an army officer, grew up in many different places as the family moved about once a year. She started skating in Alaska at the age of five.
“They used to freeze over the parking lot at school so kids could skate during recess,” says Wagner. “I always thought that looked cool. My mom put me in the Basic Skills program and it took off from there.”
Wagner’s mother Melissa says she gave her daughter the choice of ballet or skating; Ashley loved skating from the beginning.
“Our next-door neighbor was her best friend and he was a hockey player,” Melissa said. “He was five, and he would be in his hockey jersey and Ashley would have her pink fluffy dress, and they would go and skate for hours.”
Wagner started private lessons in Eagle River, Alaska, and continued when the family moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then Tacoma, Washington. (Her father turned down a posting to Hawaii because it wouldn’t have been possible to skate there.) Finally, when Wagner was thirteen, the family moved to Virginia for an extended stay and Wagner started working with coach Shirley Hughes, who would teach her for the next seven years.
“I started my international competitions with Shirley,” Wagner said. “My first international was NAC in Canada, then the Triglav Trophy in 2006. I won, actually! So that was really exciting for me because it was my first international and I wasn’t expecting much.”
Two years later, Wagner won the bronze medal and made the world team in her first year skating senior at the 2008 U.S. championships. She switched coaches at the end of the season to Priscilla Hill, whom she worked with in Delaware for the next two years. Finally, after the 2010 season, Wagner moved to California to train with coaching legend John Nicks and choreographer Phillip Mills.
“I definitely think that the team I put together for myself was what made the season for me,” Wagner said. “Mr. Nicks is incredible and he had so much to teach me. I had the goods but I could never do it in competition; I think he made me stronger as a competitor. When I got out on the ice to compete I felt prepared. Mentally I was so much more confident in performing.”
Wagner and Nicks seem to have great student-teacher chemistry, which was recognized by the Professional Skaters Association when it gave Nicks the 2012 Coach of the Year award.
Photos Courtesy of IMG
“We really understand working with each other,” Wagner said. “I understand what he’s looking for so he doesn’t have to make the same correction twice. Working with him every day, you have no idea what he’s going to throw your way. He always keeps me on my toes. He’s very entertaining.”
This season, Wagner is skating to music from The Red Violin in her short program and Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah in her free skate. She opened the season with a brilliant long program at the Japan Open on October 6, scoring 123.57 to win the ladies’ event.
“I’ve always been drawn to stronger pieces, that’s something I relate to,” Wagner said. “Mr. Nicks has helped me get my emotions under control and calm me down. It’s intense, it’s powerful, and I can act out all the emotions, and it’s really fun for me to skate.”The next time she comes to Boston, Wagner has one more goal.
“I’ve never been to The Skating Club of Boston,” she said, “And I feel like that’s a rite of passage.”
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