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U.S. skaters to do it one more time in Tokyo

Wagner bids adieu to Black Swan; Gold says hello to seniors

Ashley Wagner will perform for the last time in competition the <i>Black Swan</i> program that helped elevate her to one of the world's elite.
Ashley Wagner will perform for the last time in competition the Black Swan program that helped elevate her to one of the world's elite. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/18/2012) - This Saturday morning (U.S. time), Ashley Wagner will bid a fond farewell to her Black Swan free skate when she competes the career-changing program for the final time at the World Team Trophy in Tokyo.

It's bittersweet, but it couldn't happen in a better place.

"Skating in front of Japanese fans is always a great experience, and I've heard from so many that they love my Black Swan program, so it's an appropriate place to skate it for the last time," she said.

"I'm sad to give up something I love so much, but I can only do programs for one season or else I get too bored."

A major earthquake, followed by a tragic tsunami, forced the postponement of the World Team Trophy in Japan last season, but the event returns to Tokyo starting Thursday.

Skaters from the U.S. world team, plus U.S. junior champion Gracie Gold, square off against teams from the other top skating countries to compete for a $1 million in prize money, with the winning team taking home $200,000.

For Wagner, who moved to California last summer to train under veteran coach John Nicks, it's yet another chance to display the improved artistry and poise she's demonstrated for most of the season, winning her first U.S. title, taking home gold at the 2012 Four Continents Championships and placing fourth at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France, last month.

"Yes, it is a team competition, but [figure skating] is not so much of a team sport," Wagner said. "I see it as a normal competition. I'm not making any changes; I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing, and hopefully add to the team effort as well."

Black Swan the movie, a 2010 psychological thriller, was a big hit in Japan. When Wagner performed her program to a third-place finish in the free skate at the NHK Trophy in November (she placed fourth overall), she made a lot of new fans in the process.

"I've gotten a lot of messages on Facebook and email, and at competitions -- they come up and talk to me about it," she said.

Tokyo is yet another chance for the skater to add some elusive finishing touches to her technical arsenal: a triple flip-triple toe combination in her short and a double Axel-triple toe in her free.

Missing the triple-triple in Nice -- she did a triple loop-double toe instead -- may have cost her a world medal.

"That's the plan," she said. "I've just been maintaining, doing run-throughs. It's a hard point, the end of the season. There's no chance to make any changes. You have to save your energy for training and the competition."

Tokyo marks the first time the 16-year-old Gold has squared off against Wagner in competition, and she will face the other top finishers from worlds -- including world champion Carolina Kostner of Italy; Russia's silver medalist Alena Leonova; and bronze medalist Akiko Suzuki of Japan -- at her first-ever senior event.

"I was really surprised," Gold said. "I didn't know I was eligible to be selected. When the call came, it was very exciting. It's an honor. I've always wanted to go to Japan. It's definitely a new experience.

"I am so looking forward to competing with Ashley, and Kostner, Suzuki and [Kanako] Murakami -- I've only watched them on icenetwork," Gold continued. "I really admire them."

Gold, along with coach Alex Ouriashev and choreographer Scott Brown, adapted her junior-level programs for senior competition.

"We added 30 seconds for the spiral sequence (in her free skate set to music from The Mission and The Untouchables)," she said. "I think we made the adjustment well and fit it into the choreography. I love the music Scott added.

"The triple-triples (a triple flip-triple toe in her short and a triple Lutz-triple toe in the free), and all of my other jumps, are exactly the same. I'm not doing a flying sit [spin] in the short program; I'm doing a flying camel, which is actually better for me."

Gold, whose season-best score of 172.69 was the second highest among juniors this season, behind world junior champion Julia Lipnitskaia, isn't putting extra pressure on herself to skate lights out in Tokyo.

"Of course I want to do well, and I think I will," she said. "I'm just going to enjoy the experience there. I want to learn from the best, and I want to have fun."

Also on the singles front, U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, along with U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon, will take on world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi and two Frenchmen, Brian Joubert and Florent Amodio. Both are sure to be buoyed by their large Japanese fan bases.

Luckily, performing "Die Fledermaus" never gets old for Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won silver in Nice behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. They're set to square off against their rivals and training partners for the fourth time this season in Tokyo.

"It's hard to train it at this point in the season, but when you enjoy a program so much, it's not that bad," White said. "We've been going strong since coming home from Nice. This is another chance to represent the U.S., and I think our team has a great chance to win this."

"I think we feel pretty good physically," Davis said. "We were really geared to peak at worlds, but we've been training very hard, so we're still quite prepared."

Davis, who is studying for an anthropology degree at University of Michigan, won't have time for much else besides practicing and competing in Tokyo.

"I have a final exam at school the day after I get back, writing essays on ancient Rome for a history class," she said. "So in Japan, it's just focus."

After he and partner Caydee Denney placed eighth at their worlds' debut in Nice, John Coughlin had a practical concern: breaking in a new pair of boots.

"Two days before we left for Nice, we were on the ice, and I looked at Caydee and said, 'My boots are shot. This isn't good,' " the U.S. pair champion said. "The top of the back of the boot had split, right up to the logo."

Coughlin brought the skate to Westside Boot and Shoe, a family-owned repair shop well-known to Colorado Springs-based skaters.

"I went, and a lady was dropping off some dress shoes, and they told her it would take two weeks," he said. "My heart sank. We were leaving in two days. But I put on a big smile and a hopeful face, and they did it overnight."

In Nice, the boot "looked like Frankenstein, it had so many stitches, plus a lot of tape to reinforce it. I didn't want to stress about it in Tokyo, so I took the opportunity to break in new skates."

Aside from the boots, it's been training as usual for the duo.

"Of course, we'd like to improve from worlds," Denney said. "We want to improve our skating within the program, the components, and connect with each other and the audience."

"Our personal goals are [to fix] little things and nail down the levels," Coughlin said. "For me, I'd like to get the level up in the death spiral in the short program. (It gained Level 1 in Nice.) I want another shot at that."

Coming up next

After Tokyo, Wagner heads off to Canadian Stars on Ice, followed by a two-week vacation in the Philadelphia area, the place she calls home.

"I haven't been home since Christmas," she said. "I'm going to take a rest and get my energy back, and then go back to California to work on new stuff and choreography.

"I really haven't had much of a break since I moved to California last summer to work with Mr. Nicks. It's been non-stop, and I've loved it. I was selected for the World Team Trophy, so I guess I've been doing something right."

Gold intends to compete on the senior international circuit this fall, including at least one Grand Prix event.

"That's the hope and plan," the Chicago area teen said. "I'm getting two new programs, and Scott will be doing both again. We haven't actually started yet, though, because of World Team Trophy."

Her new short will be set to the Tango "Hernando's Hideaway," from the musical The Pajama Game; her free, to selections from the Life is Beautiful soundtrack.

Denney and Coughlin have booked a trip to the Detroit Skating Club, where Pasquale Camerlengo will create their 2012-13 short to swing music and free skate to music from Phantom of the Opera.

"We really admire what [Camerlengo] has done with his new [ice dance] teams," Coughlin said. "We talked about the ideas we want, how we want 'Caydee and John' to look and feel on the ice. We think he will be a great person to get us there."

When Davis and White return to their training base in Canton, Mich., they'll have a week before heading off to Ontario for Stars on Ice shows in Toronto, Hamilton and London, where they may perform an exhibition version of "Die Fledermaus."

"We're going to figure out what we're doing next year," White said. "Then after [Stars on Ice], we'll have another week and maybe start to figure out some lifts. Then we'll have a vacation the last two weeks of May."

"Charlie and I have listened to music constantly since coming back from worlds, and we have quite a few ideas to narrow down," Davis said. "We've cut some programs -- Charlie is good at cutting music -- and talked about what direction we want to go in. When we get home, we'll sit down with our coaches and make the decisions."