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Borscht Belts: U.S. ladies ready to walk the walk

Trio flies into Sochi after training in Austria; Wagner enjoys viral fame
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American ladies Gracie Gold (left) and Ashley Wagner are all smiles after becoming Olympic medalists. -Getty Images

The Americans have landed, and for two of them, it's their second trip to the Olympics this month.

Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner, who already earned bronze medals in the team event earlier in these Winter Games, had left Sochi to get more ice time in Austria. They were joined there by 15-year-old U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds, who touched down Saturday in Sochi for the first time. Edmunds has been in Europe for two weeks, first stopping in Germany before heading to Austria.

The three U.S. ladies spent four days in Austria where they could train for a few hours each day and isolate themselves from the distractions and media glare of the Olympic spotlight. All the while, they could stay on this side of the Atlantic and not get too jet-lagged.

"I mean, we love you all," Wagner playfully told the media, "But sometimes it's nice to be able to get away."

While there, they could skate two to three hours a day and have their music played any time they needed. Gold was accompanied by Scott Brown, a Denver-based coach who has helped guide her skating the past couple of years. Her main coach, Frank Carroll, was a little busy, as he was working with Denis Ten in the men's event. Ten won the bronze medal Friday night.

The ladies will practice together Sunday, and Gold will be reunited with Carroll then. Including Ten's bronze medal, Carroll has now coached five Olympic medalists (Linda Fratianne, Michelle Kwan, Tim Goebel and Evan Lysacek are the others), and Gold hopes he will be the key to getting her on the podium as well.

"It's always great to have an experienced guide on this journey," said Gold, who moved in September from Illinois to California to work with Carroll.

"He's been a rock these past couple of months," she continued. "He's never thrown off or surprised about anything. He's so calm; he's been a great influence."

Gold has shown steady improvement under Carroll's tutelage and won her first U.S. title at the senior level last month in Boston.

"2014 has been all about momentum," Gold said. "I'm just trying to keep the mojo going."

Sent off in style

Edmunds has never been homeschooled and is proud that she is a full-time sophomore at Archbishop Mitty High School in the Bay Area. Among the school's famous alums are Olympic champions Kerri Walsh Jennings (beach volleyball) and Brandi Chastain (soccer), and both of them surprised Edmunds with a send-off celebration at her school.

"I walked in, and the entire school was chanting and cheering," Edmunds said.

As excited as the school is about her being in the Olympics, Edmunds has not been given any hall pass for her homework while she is in Sochi. In fact, Edmunds was finishing her geometry homework on the flight here.

"I might have a little wiggle room," Edmunds said. "But I want to get it done and not fall too far behind."

Perhaps if she wins a medal here, in her senior international debut, she'll give herself a break.

Flying in under the radar

Edmunds took an under-the-radar flight into Sochi, which she believes could be to her benefit.

"I definitely think it's nice," she said. "The excitement isn't really around me right now."

She will leave it to her skating to create the buzz. Edmunds has two triple-triples planned in her free skate.

"I can't wait to show everyone, and the crowd and the judges, what I can do," she said.

No rainbows in Sochi

Wagner has been outspoken in support of the LGBT community, especially when she has been asked about the anti-homosexual propaganda law in Russia. That said, don't expect her to paint her fingernails in rainbow colors.

"I don't believe that painting my fingernails or wearing a rainbow headband is going to do much," she said. "But I've been given an incredible platform to tell the LGBT community that I love them."

New rule

Wagner was not given full credit for her triple flip-triple toe in the short program in the team event because it was underrotated, but otherwise, she had a strong showing. When asked what she will do to improve for the ladies event, she joked that her coach, Rafael Arutunian, came up with a new plan.

"Well, Raf and I tried this new thing where you land jumps on one foot," she said.

Still a champion

Patrick Chan said it will take some time before he will be able to move past his disappointing showing in the men's event in Sochi, even though he will take home two silver medals (one from the team event, the other from the men's competition). In Wagner's mind, he remains a champion.

"Patrick has left his mark on this sport," Wagner said. "Ask any person in the U.S. who is Michelle Kwan and they probably will tell you she's the Olympic gold medalist. Same with him. I'd be happy to be Patrick Chan."

-Amy Rosewater

Wagner's photo goes viral

It's the photo shared 'round the world: Wagner, reacting to her lower-than-expected team short program score.

"I was upset," she said. "And what you see is what you get from me."

What we got was Wagner making what she called "the face" when she saw a score of 63.10 points, far lower than her season's best of 69.26. By the next morning, those few seconds in the kiss and cry had taken on a life of their own.

And "McKayla is not impressed" ain't got nothin' on "Ashley is not happy."

"I found out it was being made into a meme and I thought, 'Oh, my gosh -- this is either going to be really good or really bad,'" Wagner said.

While the skater called reactions to the meme mixed, her friends think it's a riot.

"It shows that the Olympics are about having a good time," she said. "It doesn't always have to be so serious. You know, 'She's going for her dreams at this very moment;' Relax, we're real people. At that moment, you saw I was a real person, not a little porcelain doll."

The next time fans see Wagner in the kiss and cry, she plans to be overjoyed with her score. You'll know that, too.

"If I'm happy, then I'm happy," Wagner said. "If I'm disappointed with a score, you're going to see it. I think that's one of my strengths: You can always tell where I am. You're really going to get the true story with me."

Wagner's agent, David Baden of IMG, had one thought as he watched the meme go viral: You can't buy this kind of publicity.

"It's all a matter of how she responds to it, how she takes it," Baden said. "It was just a reaction. She has no control of a split-second photo that goes viral. Instead of being upset about it, she's enjoying the moment. It's just a sign of how strong social media is right now."

As for the program itself, Wagner and Arutunian have a few ideas on how she can get a better score in her upcoming individual event.

"It was a couple of really small mistakes that kept me from getting the score I hoped, [including] timing the spins a little bit more," she said. "Beyond that, I have to sell the program. Raf made sure I really trained it in Austria so that it has emotion, energy, edge quality."

So, all in all, Wagner is taking her McKayla Maroney moment in stride. Mostly, she's thankful for one thing.

"My lipstick held up really well during my short program," she said. "Now, if there had been lipstick on my teeth, that would have been bad."

-Lynn Rutherford

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