Olympic team contains mix of stalwarts, surprisesWagner, Edmunds get nod over Nagasu; Top two pairs headed to Sochi
Ashley Wagner knew better than anyone else what was at stake at these U.S. championships.
"No one is safe," Wagner said.
Unlike sports like swimming and track and field, where Olympic spots are based solely on finishes at the trials, an international selection committee was responsible for choosing the skaters who will represent the United States in Sochi next month.
The committee was supposed to evaluate each skater based on results from events of the past year in addition to their performance at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships this week in Boston.
And under U.S. Figure Skating's rules for choosing the team, not even the national champion was guaranteed a spot in Sochi.
Wagner, who entered this competition as the two-time defending champion and a heavy favorite to make the Olympic team, wasn't able to breathe a sigh of relief until her name was announced as a member of the Sochi squad Sunday. Wagner was in the TD Garden, watching good friend and training mate Adam Rippon practice when she received official word she had made the team via text message.
She was teary eyed then and was even more so when she arrived to meet the press at a news conference roughly a half an hour later.
"I'm at a loss for words right now," an emotional Wagner said, adding, "I'm grateful to be where I am now."
She will join Gracie Gold, who captured the gold medal Saturday night, and silver medalist Polina Edmunds.
Left off the team is Mirai Nagasu, the only one of the top finishers with previous Olympic experience. She won the bronze here and had earned a Grand Prix medal this season but could not persuade the selection committee that it was enough for her to return to the sport's biggest stage.
The pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who defended their U.S. crown this week, was named to the team, as were Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, the silver medalists from Florida.
Caydee Denney, who competed in Vancouver with former partner Jeremy Barrett, had hoped to make a return trip to the Olympics but won't be skating in Sochi. She and current partner John Coughlin finished third.
The dance team going to Sochi was the least surprising as six-time U.S. champions and gold-medal favorites Meryl Davis and Charlie White were named, as were Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the sister-brother team of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. They finished 1-2-3 at these Championships.
The big drama, however, surrounded the ladies event, and campaigning, politicking and debating went late into the night Saturday.
Gold won, Edmunds placed second, and Nagasu finished third. Wagner, who fell twice and finished fifth in the free skate, wound up fourth overall. Typically, the top finishers at this event are sent to the Olympics, but Wagner's unexpected poor showing threw a wrench into that tradition.
The last two times an American woman went to the Olympics without finishing in the top places at the U.S. championships, it was because of injury issues rather than selecting a skater based on past performances.
In 2006, a groin injury prevented Michelle Kwan from competing at that year's U.S. championships in St. Louis, but she was named to the Olympic team instead of third-place finisher Emily Hughes. Kwan withdrew shortly after the start of the Games, and Hughes was able to compete in Torino.
And in 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was sent to Lillehammer even though she couldn't compete at the U.S. championships that year following her infamous attack. Kwan finished second that year and was an Olympic alternate.
But the selection process this time around was about track records more than recent results, and that is the main reason why Wagner was named to the squad.
According to the U.S. Figure Skating media guide, the selection committee was charged with examining the results of these events in order of importance: 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, 2013 Grand Prix Final, 2013 World Championships, Grand Prix events from the 2013 season, 2013 Four Continents Championships, 2013 U.S. Championships, 2013 World Junior Championships and 2013 Junior Grand Prix Final.
The only skater who could rest easy after the free skate was Gold, who won both the short program and free skate en route to winning the title.
Wagner dubbed herself the "almost girl" after suffering a few near-misses earlier in her career, including placing third at the 2010 U.S. Championships when two skaters were selected for the Vancouver Olympics.
She seemed to have shed that moniker the past two seasons and appeared to be a virtual lock for this year's team, but her poor performance in Boston sent U.S. Figure Skating fans into a tizzy, wondering if that would be the tipping point.
"I'm glad my federation was able to see beyond one bad skate," Wagner said.
On the flip side, fans wondered if one strong showing at the senior level was enough to get Edmunds on the team.
Despite having a fantastic showing this week, Edmunds was the least experienced in international competitions among of the top-four finishers. She won both of her Junior Grand Prix events and placed fourth at the Junior Grand Prix Final, but until she arrived in Boston, she had never competed against senior-level skaters. The Olympics will mark her first senior international event.
Edmunds is the first U.S. ladies skater in 50 years to make the Olympic team the year after winning the junior national title.
Gold, for one, did not see that as a hindrance for the young Edmunds, saying, "Go big or go home."
Edmunds maintained that her performances here should be enough to earn her a spot in Sochi. And at around 11:30 a.m., her mom, Nina, received a text message saying she had been nominated to the Olympic team.
Nina Edmunds, a former singles skater in Russia who coaches Polina along with David Glynn, put her daughter in skates at 20 months of age. Competing in Sochi has been a dream for both of them. Polina said she always knew 2014 would be the first Olympics for which she would be age-eligible and said, "This year, when I turned 15, I thought, 'Oh, this is it.'"
Nagasu, meanwhile, teared up in the post-event news conference Saturday night and said she hoped that being an Olympian and a podium finisher in Boston would get her on the team, but it was not to be.
Now, a new crop of American women will call themselves Olympians.
"I'm so excited to be going to Sochi," Gold said. "The Olympics aren't just another competition. It's the ultimate dream."
Olympic men's team named
U.S. Figure Skating announced the men's representatives for Sochi later Sunday evening, after Jeremy Abbott captured his fourth national title and 19-year-old Jason Brown performed a riveting free skate for the silver medal.
The decision was an easy one, as Abbott and Brown were clearly the two best men's skaters in Boston this week.
"I came here to get the business done and go to Sochi, and I accomplished that," Abbott said. "Four national titles, and I'm going in as a second-time Olympian. I'm extremely excited."
Brown was equally elated.
"This is increbidle," he said. "It's such an honor. I'm so excited to go and represent my country in Russia."