Ice Network

Wagner finds inspiration in performing for audience

Two-time U.S. champion says she still gets a rush from competition
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The artistry Ashley Wagner displays in her skating is reflected in her program components scores, which were the highest in the field at Skate Canada. -Stephan Potopnyk/Skate Canada

To any oberver's eye, Ashley Wagner's skating is certainly the most generous and personality-driven of all the ladies at Trophée Éric Bompard. She agreed to answer icenetwork's questions about the way she considers the artistic side of skating and keeps striving to develop it, both for herself and for worldwide audiences.

Icenetwork: So, you're back! It's such a delight to watch you skate in France. What keeps you going?

Wagner: That's true, I could stop my career right now if I wanted to; I have accomplished what I needed to accomplish. But the truth is that I love skating so much -- especially the artistic side of it, even more than the technical side, actually.

So I'm here to see how I can push my sport further. In that respect, I love working with lyrics now. Lyrics give some more background to the audience, so I can push my own skating a little bit further now.

Icenetwork: You could do shows. Instead, you want to push the artistic side?

Wagner: Competition is a thrill; it's a rush for me. Shows are not competition. I love to fight after something I think is mine. While I am attracted by performing, I love competing.

Four years is a long way (to the next Olympics), but I don't want to stay behind a desk. At the same time, I don't want to hold on to the bitter end either. I'll know when it's my time, and I'll leave on a high note. But for now, I still have things I'd like to accomplish.

I have always dreamed of winning an Olympic medal. I have it (the bronze medal she won in team event in Sochi), but I don't have an individual one yet. And I'm missing a world title, too. That's the one thing I am still missing. I'll see how it goes, but as long as I can feel the benefits of Raf's (coach Rafael Arutunian) training, I'll keep going.

Icenetwork: What makes you work so much on your artistic side?

Wagner: I find it is a welcome distraction. Working with the current international judging system is so technically demanding. Younger skaters grew up in this new system since they started skating. The artistic side of skating attracts me for that reason: No other sport has such a demanding technique, intermixed with performing and acting. So each time I skate is different, because art makes it different. It keeps me from being bored!

Icenetwork: Is it not tough when you see younger girls performing robotic jumps and, yet, getting better placed?

Wagner: Yes, it's tough. I think age has a lot to do with it. How can you skate to a love story at 15 when you have not experienced one yourself? Obviously, the older skaters will be less robotic and less consistent, but at the same time they will express their own feelings better. Skating being judged mainly on the technical side, the younger ones win.

It will be interesting to watch how these youngsters grow and manage their teens, and how they evolve from [having] girl bodies into ladies.

Icenetwork: Are you sure that we will keep seeing them again, or will they be replaced by newer ones from one season to the next?

Wagner: That will be interesting to see…

One of the areas I would like to explore later is broadcasting, journalism. The judging system is quite complicated, but so much could be explained in a easier way. (Interviewer's aside: Also, there is a lot of time not to talk while a skater is performing!)

Icenetwork: What would be your ideal form of skating? And how would you influence skating to turn in that direction?

Wagner: I think skating's best would be a combination of these young skaters' jumping abilities, flowing in with the artistic side.

If I could influence skating, I would want to make sure that kids love skating skills, which tend to disappear these days. Also, I would want them to give more to the audience. What people want is a reality show, audience, judges, drama. … The audience is very important. I would tell them to reach beyond the boards. Skating is about judges, but it's also about the people behind the boards.

Younger ones are scared and intimidated by random eye contact. I would tell them not to be frightened. It may feel goofy at first, but it's so much better for the audience.

Icenetwork: It seems that you like to be present to yourself and to your audience while you skate.

Wagner: That's what's fun to me. It feels different every single time! It's become inspirational. Now I feel comfortable with it.

Icenetwork: You mentioned that at first you had a hard time relating to the character of Moulin Rouge (Wagner's free program) because it was not as classy as it should be. How could you be inspired by the story then?

Wagner: You might think that this character is not a good model to relate to because of what she does for a living. Yet, you can take the story differently and think that she is a performer for a living. That's what she actually is: a performer. In the first part of my free program, she starts with a big show, with many showgirls. The middle part is where she takes off her make-up and finds her true emotions. The last part is about realizing that she can't escape this life, and that she needs to keep going.

Icenetwork: You made the story consistent with what you could relate to then?

Wagner: Exactly. I created this so that I could believe in it. It has been my own approach. If you want to relate to a story, you need to work on it.

I have been criticized for it at times. Some people love to disapprove of things. Complaining is a hobby to many. I have accepted that. Still, I am stubborn in my way. It is hard to convince me to change it. So I stick to my theme, and I make it my own so I can believe in it.

Icenetwork: You graced us with a complete run-through of your free program during training, and your jumps look rather consistent, don't they? Also, they seem to flow so well on the ice.

Wagner: Yes, they are coming along very well. I am very pleased with that. Last season was my first season with Raf, and I needed to adapt to his coaching style. We had so much to do, to work on the basics the way he wanted them, that we had no time to push the other elements.

Raf's coaching is very unique, and I have never seen any other coach teaching like he does. Now, this is my second season with him. I know what he means and wants to see, and that's a lot easier for me to move along faster.

Also, I have been lucky, as I have never had any major injuries. Raf respects the way I listen to my body. He knows that I do that well. Also, the way I learned to skate keeps me injury free. Raf has taught me to gain speed more efficiently, and that has been a good help for my jumps. 

If skating still attracts worldwide audiences, it may be thanks to champions like Ashley Wagner. May she push the boundaries of her sport long enough to make her point!