Meritocracy? US Figure Skater Makes Olympic Team After Distant Fourth-Place Finish at Championships

Meritocracy? US Figure Skater Makes Olympic Team After Distant Fourth-Place Finish at Championships

(AP) Wagner makes US figure skating team despite falls
By RACHEL COHEN
AP Sports Writer
BOSTON
The names on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team were still supposed to be a secret, so Ashley Wagner slipped under the stands to cry.

Hours after a performance she described as a “tearful little wimp out on the ice,” the two-time national champion was picked to go to the Sochi Games.

She finished a distant fourth at the U.S. Championships on Saturday night, and only three American women make the Olympics. But this event isn’t the only criteria U.S. Figure Skating takes into account.

“If you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she’s got the top credentials of any of our female athletes,” said the organization’s president, Patricia St. Peter.

And so the third-place finisher, Mirai Nagasu, was passed over Sunday. Fifteen-year-old Polina Edmunds, who was second, was selected even though she has never competed in an international senior event.

Nagasu has some pretty impressive credentials herself _ she was fourth at the 2010 Games as a 16-year-old. But U.S. Figure Skating’s selection guidelines consider only the past year, and Nagasu had mostly struggled until a resurgent performance at nationals.

Silent all day, Nagasu appeared as scheduled for her performance in the Sunday night exhibition that always follows major events. Her eyes welled up as she took her spot on the ice, and the crowd rose to its feet as she choked back the sobs.

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.

U.S. Figure Skating does take into account the technical difficulty of skaters’ programs, and that might have been what clinched the preternaturally poised Edmunds’ spot on the team.

“Even though it is my senior debut, I think I am senior-level, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a debut or not,” she said.

The one no-brainer was Gracie Gold, who won her first U.S. title Saturday in a runaway.

Wagner finished fifth at the world championships and won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, the next most important events in the selection criteria after this year’s nationals.

“I’m happy that my federation was able to see beyond one bad skate,” she said through tears once the announcement became official.

But, oh, was it a bad one. Wagner fell twice and failed to cleanly land two other triple jumps in Saturday’s long program. Afterward, she mouthed, “I’m sorry” to her mother.

“I was overwhelmed from the big lights and the big show,” she said.

Wagner insists that won’t happen again in Sochi, with the pressure off by making the Olympic team.

“I’m not that skater that everyone saw last night,” Wagner said. “I’m a fierce competitor. I’m tough as nails.”

There was no way she was going to sleep Saturday night. The 22-year-old Wagner video-chatted with some old friends, had a big glass of wine with her mother and brother and watched the movie “The Seven Year Itch.”

And she accepted that she might narrowly miss making the Olympic team for the second straight games, prepared to train through 2018.

“I danced with danger last night,” she said. “I never want to feel that uncomfortable again.”

Wagner was watching a friend practice Sunday morning when she got the text message that she was on the team.

“It’s been a really long four years,” she said later, her voice cracking.

Edmunds knew she’d have more Olympic opportunities in her future, but Sochi was special. Her mother, who helps coach her, is from Russia.

Edmunds hasn’t been there since she was 2, but she often says hi over Skype to all her relatives in the city of Tver, and when she competed at the Junior Grand Prix in Belarus, her uncle took an 18-hour train trip to see her perform. Edmunds can understand Russian and speaks it some.

The Olympics also will be a homecoming for U.S. pairs champion Simon Shnapir, who was born in Russia. He gleefully said “We’re going to Sochi” in Russian when it was announced that he and partner Marissa Castelli were on the team. They will be joined by runners-up Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay.

The U.S. has three spots in ice dancing, and top-three finishers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani were picked. The top-two men’s finishers were also selected for the Americans’ spots: Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown.

Davis and White, the reigning world champs, are the Americans’ best _ and perhaps only _ hope for a figure skating gold medal. They won silver in Vancouver, and after four years spent establishing themselves as tops in the world, their chance to move up one step on the podium is finally here.

“Obviously we’re going into these Games with very high expectations,” White said. “We’ve had a lot of great momentum over the last four years since the 2010 Games. We feel like we’ve put ourselves in a really great position to come home with a gold medal.”

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