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Wagner starts anew, with help from Hill

U.S. bronze medalist shows off new side at 2008 Liberty Open

Ashley's brother, Austin and their mom, Melissa, at the IceWorks cafe. Austin, a novice competitor, has joined his sister Ashley to train at the Wilmington Arena with Priscilla Hill.
Ashley's brother, Austin and their mom, Melissa, at the IceWorks cafe. Austin, a novice competitor, has joined his sister Ashley to train at the Wilmington Arena with Priscilla Hill. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/17/2008) - Practicing her new short program to the tender strains of "Somewhere in Time," Ashley Wagner is channeling her romantic side.

"I have a boyfriend back in Virginia, who I've dated a long time," said the 17-year-old from Alexandria.

"I'm thinking about him when I skate to this; that's what my choreographer, Phillip Mills, said to do. It's coming along really well."

The U.S. bronze medalist will debut her new look at the senior ladies short program event at the 2008 Liberty Open tomorrow.

There have been a lot of changes. After working for six years with Shirley Hughes, Wagner now trains with Priscilla Hill at the Wilmington Ice Arena, former home of 1984 Olympic silver medalists Kitty and Peter Carruthers. The rink, situated in the midst of a pastoral golf course, still bears the address 1301 Carruthers Lane.

There, she skates four-a-day sessions with Hill's other elite pupils, including former Austrian champion Viktor Pfeifer. Her 15-year-old brother, Austin, a promising novice competitor who splits his time between skating and soccer, will skate there through the summer.

"Skating there, it's kind of like a boot camp," Austin said. "But it's great. We're all focused on our goals."

"I love training here; it's such a positive environment," his sister said. "I can tell the difference in my skating already. I'm having a great time."

Hill, who began working with Ashley just over three weeks ago, praised the skater's work ethic and enthusiasm.

"I'm taking a different approach than Ashley's had in the past," Hill, best known as the former longtime coach of Johnny Weir, said. "I'm checking everything. We're working on the overall package."

Wagner, who won the bronze medal at the 2007 World Junior Championships behind fellow U.S. teens Caroline Zhang and Mirai Nagasu, had a strong start last season, placing fifth at Skate Canada and winning bronze at Trophée Eric Bompard . She placed third at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, but struggled to a 16th place finish at her first World Figure Skating Championships.

Now, with a new coach, new rink, and new costumer -- Stephanie Handler, who also works with Weir -- Wagner is preparing for her second senior season. Her first stop this fall is Cup of China in early November.

"I'm just working non-stop," she said. "Hopefully, by the fall, I won't get 'the edge.'"

That's Wagner's shorthand for the dreaded edge deduction, noted by an "e" on the judge's detail sheets. Like many top skaters -- including world champion Mao Asada and former world champion Brian Joubert -- Wagner uses an incorrect take-off edge for a toe-pick assisted jump. In her case, it's the triple Lutz.

"We're fixing it, changing it [from an inside] to an outside edge," she said. "It's coming along really well."

"She's definitely done Lutzes; I have some on Dartfish [video replay]," Hill added. "Whether it's ready or not for Liberty, we'll soon find out. Right now, we're working on making the jump a true Lutz, and not concentrating on the combination."

For her new short, Wagner turned to the California-based Mills, who created programs last season for former U.S. pair champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin.

"Phil is such a great guy; he's so positive," Wagner said. "I got this program right when I was switching [coaches], and he told me to be confident in what I'm doing. This short is so different than anything I've ever skated to before; this is going to be a big year for me and I think it will help me get to the next level."

Wagner is working with former Ukrainian ice dancer Irina Romanova to create a new free program, to music from the Aram Khachaturian ballet "Spartacus."

"The long is still in development; we have the basic layout," Hill said. "She will be monitored [by U.S. Figure Skating] at the DuPage Open in mid-August, so it will be ready before then."