Ashley Wagner makes U.S. figure skating team despite falls
Two-time national champion Ashley Wagner is in, heading to her first Olympics even after a performance at the U.S. Championships she described as a "tearful little wimp out on the ice."
Mirai Nagasu, who finished fourth at the Vancouver Games, is out, left off the squad despite finishing ahead of Wagner at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships -- which count toward the Olympic selection process but are not binding.
By dipping to fourth place to send Wagner to Sochi instead of Nagasu, who finished third this weekend, the U.S. Figure Skating Association hopes it can avoid another medal shutout in women's figure skating like the one in Vancouver that was its first since 1964.
Explaining the decision, USFSA president Patricia St. Peter said the committee considers performance over the past year, and not just the finish at nationals. Wagner finished fifth at the world championships last year and won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final.
"If you look at Ashley Wagner's record and performance, she's got the top credentials of any of our female athletes," St. Peter said.
The other picks went according to form, with women's champion Gracie Gold joining Wagner along with the second-place finisher, 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, for whom the Olympics will be her first senior international event. Pairs winners Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli and runners-up Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay also will be going to Sochi.
In ice dance, reigning Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White could be the Americans' best chance to reach the figure skating podium in Russia. They will be joined by Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani.
The top two men's finishers from Sunday's competition, Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown, round out the team.
The committee elevated Wagner, the 2012 and '13 U.S. champion, to the Olympic team even after she fell twice and two other times failed to cleanly land triple jumps at this year's nationals.
"I'm happy that my federation was able to see beyond one bad skate," Wagner said after a sleepless night with FaceTime, a big glass of wine and the movie "The Seven-Year Itch."
"I danced with danger (Saturday) night. I never want to feel that uncomfortable again," she said. "I'm ready to train so that when I show up in Sochi I'm the Ashley Wagner you have seen for the past couple of years."
Nagasu was fourth in the 2010 Games as a 16-year-old. But that didn't get her anywhere because the selection committee considers only performances from the past year, when she mostly struggled before a resurgent performance at nationals.
Nagasu choked back tears as she took the ice for the Sunday evening exhibition, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd that then fell so silent during her performance that you could hear her skates gliding across the ice. After her program, she wiped away more tears as she skated off to another standing ovation.
Nagasu declined to speak to reporters afterward but later released a statement.
"I'm disappointed in the decision. Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made," she said.
The U.S. team will feel at home in Sochi: Edmunds' mother is from Russia, and she keeps in touch with family there. Shnapir was born in Russia; asked for a reaction to making the Olympics, he said in Russian with a big smile, "We're going to Sochi."
Abbott, who finished ninth in Vancouver, earned his second trip to the Olympics on Sunday with his fourth U.S. championship, landing a quadruple toe loop to open the free skate. He is the 11th man to win at least four U.S. championships, a list that includes Dick Button, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Todd Eldredge.
"I knew that I was going to cry today -- good or bad," Abbott said.
Brown put in the best performance in the free skate to vault to second and earn the other American spot; defending U.S. champ Max Aaron missed out, finishing third. Eighth at senior nationals last year, Brown was thinking about the 2018 Olympics, but his coach reminded him to keep Sochi in his sights.
"Midway through the season I started to believe it," said Brown, who turned 19 a month ago. "Over time, I got more and more confident that it could be a reality."