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No offseason for determined Wagner

U.S. bronze medalist busy performing, re-working Lutz

Top U.S. lady Ashley Wagner loves shopping at Urban Outfitters.
Top U.S. lady Ashley Wagner loves shopping at Urban Outfitters. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(05/04/2010) - Don't tell Ashley Wagner there's plenty of time to worry about new programs. The skater, who turns 19 on May 16, is already growing impatient.

"There's not much of an offseason," she said. "We've started the search; there are a lot of ideas. Finding music takes a long time -- way too long, in my opinion."

Since placing third behind Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, Wagner -- who lives with her coach, Priscilla Hill, in Wilmington, Del., -- has been hard at work.

"I've been doing as many shows as I can without having it interfere with my training," she said. "What Priscilla and I are trying to do is put together show programs, similar to [competitive] short programs. Shows are fun, but at the same time, they're great opportunities to practice before an audience."

At the Cityskate show to benefit Brooklyn Ice in Hackensack, N.J., last month, Wagner included triple flip and triple loop in programs set to music from Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera. She's also done a club show in Detroit and joined Smuckers Stars on Icefor its Bridgeport, Conn., stop.

"I absolutely loved S.O.I," Wagner said. "When I finished the program, I felt like going out and doing it again. I loved meeting some of these skaters I've been watching for years; it was really exciting meeting Todd Eldredge. I admire his career and the way he dealt with things. It's kind of similar to the way I'm doing things, hopefully."

Eldredge, the 1996 world champion, won U.S. titles in 1990 and 1991 as well as the 1991 world bronze medal. Later, he had lean years, missing a few U.S. world teams before rebounding with a third U.S. title and world silver medal in 1995. He ended his eligible career with six world medals and six U.S. titles, the last in 2002 when he was 30 years old.

While Wagner has miles to go before she approaches those achievements, the teen gains inspiration from Eldredge's fight to regain a spot on the U.S. world team. Wagner placed 16th at worlds in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2008 but narrowly missed out on trips in 2009 and 2010 despite success on the Grand Prix circuit, including a silver medal at 2009 Rostelecom Cup, silver at 2009 NHK Trophy and fourth place at the most recent Grand Prix Final.

"Worlds was obviously a huge opportunity for me, so my placement was disappointing," she said. "A lot of people don't realize I skated after [defending champion] Miki Ando had that meltdown and walked off the ice [and withdrew]. I had no time to calm myself down. I was 16, and I just got caught up in nerves and the excitement of the moment. As time goes on, I'm getting stronger as a competitor."

That's why Wagner was stunned when she blew her Olympic chances by missing a triple Lutz in her short program at the 2010 U.S. Championships.

"It was a huge Lutz, and I think I anticipating landing it way before I hit the ice," she recalled. "It was so unexpected for me. It was a surprise, for sure."

After missing the Olympic and world squads, she elected not to accept an assignment to compete at world juniors, where she won bronze medals in 2007 and 2009.

"I'd been training all year at the senior level, and then after the season was [almost over], I would have had to come down to the junior level," she said.

"Priscilla and I decided to give a deserving junior that opportunity. As soon as we confirmed I would be okay [in terms of ISU ranking] without [any points] from junior worlds, I withdrew."

Kiri Baga, the 2009 U.S. novice champion, was sent in Wagner's stead and placed a creditable seventh.

Wagner revealed another reason for the withdrawal: the extra training time helped give her a head start on re-working her Lutz technique for the 2010-2011 season. Like many skaters, she has a tendency to take off on an incorrect inside edge.

"I can't afford any negative GOE [Grades of Execution] from the judges on that jump," she explained. "It has to be plain as day, triple Lutz from an outside edge. We're really working on it; that's why it hasn't been in any of my [show] programs yet."

Wagner would also like to add a new combination -- either the triple flip-triple toe or double Axel-triple toe -- to her repertoire.

"It's not that I don't think I'm capable. In competition, I've planned [the triple-triple] but it's been a question of mind over matter," she said. "This season I just have to go for it, hopefully in one of the early competitions."

Wagner and Hill are still forming the skater's summer competition schedule. So far, she plans on competing a new short program at the Liberty Summer Competition in July, and may also make an appearance at the Lake Placid Championships. All this is assuming the skater and her choreographer, former world ice dance competitor Irina Romanova, complete work on new programs.

"I'm definitely getting two new programs. I don't think I could skate a program for two seasons; I'd get too bored," she said. "Irina is brilliant, I love working with her.

"There are a lot of options. Priscilla is thinking something slinky and jazzy, maybe for the short. There are a lot of options and she wants me to keep trying new things, in terms of music, style, costumes. That's fine with me, just so long as I don't have to wear a cat suit."

Since joining forces with Hill at Wilmington Arena in June 2008, Wagner said she's thriving.

"Priscilla has developed a great group of skaters," she said. "I'm training with a bunch of guys which I think helps make me unique. They're doing quads, triple Axels, so I'm trying to keep up with the boys. I feel that it's helped me the past couple of years."

Wagner has shared the ice with many of Hill and her colleague Karl Kurtz's pupils, including Austrian champion Viktor Pfeifer, former world junior champion Stephen Carriere, Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Alex Zahradnicek.

Wagner's younger brother, Austin, trains at the rink and lives nearby. The 16-year-old, who was fifth in U.S. novice last season, plans to move up to the junior level this season and will compete at fall qualifying competitions.

"It's one of the few rinks where I think the guys almost outnumber the girls," she said.

Wagner hopes her disappointments at the U.S. Championships are behind her and she rebounds, Eldredge-style, on the world stage.

"Ever since coming to Priscilla, I haven't set placement goals, but I definitely think I'll have any even stronger competitive mindset this coming season," she said.

"I definitely want do well in the Grand Prix events, qualify for the final again and set myself up for a strong nationals. I want to be part of the team that gets those three U.S. ladies spots back."