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Fierceness redefined: 'Hungry' Wagner stands alone

With third U.S. title, Southern Californian showed she could still deliver
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Through her fiery skating performances and her outspoken nature, Ashley Wagner has made it very clear that she is her own woman. -Getty Images

Icenetwork will announce its choice for 2014-15 Person of the Year sometime in May. Here's one of the nominations for that honor from icenetwork contributor Lois Elfman.

The prevailing thought after last season was that Ashley Wagner had reached the end of the line.

Always the fearless competitor, she uncharacteristically buckled under the weight of earning a berth for the Sochi Games. A fourth-place finish at the 2014 U.S. Championships left her Olympic nomination in doubt, but, based on her competitive record, she ultimately landed a spot on the U.S. team.

She performed respectably at the Olympics and again at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships. While there were still no medals, she and Gracie Gold did combine to finish high enough at the latter to earn the U.S. three ladies spots for worlds in 2015.

Retirement seemed the likely next step. After all, she had realized her Olympic dream; she was 23 -- it was time to move on.

But Wagner was having none of it.

For her determination, style, outspokenness and absolutely ferocious win at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, Ashley Wagner is my Person of the Year.

"I'm always hungry for more, always hungry to see what else I can do and how I can top that last performance." Wagner said in a teleconference before the 2015 World Championships. "I am very competitive."

There was something about her final pose at the end of her free skate in Greensboro that crystallized what it is that makes competitive figure skating so special. She showed resilience, emotion, excitement and awe at the program she'd laid down. Wearing red to go with the music from Moulin Rouge, she was a dynamic and electric figure at mid-ice, soaking in the moment and showing she should never be counted out.

"From confident to terrified to exalted to raising the roof," NBC's Terry Gannon said.

"That's how it's done," commentator Tara Lipinski responded.

"That was everything a figure skating performance should be," analyst Johnny Weir said.

"The pressure is off," Wagner said in an interview last summer. "I've been to the Olympics. I got a medal (in the team event). Now, I can do what I want within skating. I feel I'm much freer to play -- to skate to unique pieces of music or try out new versions of me. I want to see how far I can push my skating and see what I can do now."

She loves to compete, and now heading into her mid-20s -- she turns 24 on May 16 -- she seems to be gaining a true understanding of what it takes to be the best. There's still a world medal to win, so there are clear goals to pursue.

Wagner has settled into life in Southern California, and into her working relationship with coach Rafael Arutunian, who is truly bringing out the best in her.

Most importantly, she understands her value as a competitor and won't let anyone shake that. She knows what it means to skate the program of her dreams and she'll call upon that experience for the rest of her career.

"As a more experienced skater, I can offer a level of emotional connection through my performances," Wagner said on the teleconference. "Beyond that, I feel that because I've been around for so long, I've lived through it all. I have a ton of experience competing. Although it's a learning process and it never gets easier, I think that I'm familiar with the process.

"Now, I'm learning more about myself as an athlete and how I want to be prepared and train, so there aren't any surprises for me."

Watching a skater deliver a great performance and win a title is always a thrill, but there's something extra sweet about seeing someone who was counted out rise to the occasion. That's what Ashley Wagner did. I'm looking forward to seeing her build on that.