Wagner to seek added help as Nicks scales back

Legendary mentor tells skater he will no longer accompany her to competitions

It would appear John Nicks has sat in his last kiss and cry with Ashley Wagner.
It would appear John Nicks has sat in his last kiss and cry with Ashley Wagner. (Getty Images)


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By Amy Rosewater, special to
(04/25/2013) - Ashley Wagner always knew in the back of her mind that her coach of two years, John Nicks, might not want to travel anymore on the skating circuit. The famed coach turned 84 on Monday, after all, and major skating competitions take athletes as far away as Japan, China and Russia.

But, she kept hoping that he wouldn't make that decision just yet.

In a meeting Wednesday in Los Angeles, Nicks informed Wagner, the two-time U.S. champion, that he would not travel anymore but would continue to work with her at the Aliso Viejo Ice Palace in Southern California. In a telephone interview Thursday, Wagner said she still plans to have Nicks as her coach. Wagner, who turns 22 next month, moved from Delaware to California two years ago to work with Nicks.

"He's still going to coach me," said Wagner, who has been spending the last two days doing photo shoots and media interviews in preparation for the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February. "He's still going to be my main coach. He just won't be traveling with me."

"I have enjoyed very much the last two years I have been working with her," Nicks said in a telephone interview with Wednesday night. "I always told her at the end of every season I would review things."

When asked if she was surprised by the news, Wagner replied, "Yes and no."

"I wasn't surprised because I always knew, I guess, from right around nationals that this was going on in his mind," Wagner said. "But, I always kind of hoped that he wouldn't have taken me on if he wasn't going to go to the Olympics, but he's 84 years old now, and he's totally within his right to say, 'I don't want to go to Japan.'"

Nicks told earlier this year that he did not enjoy the long, hard demands of international travel. He went with Wagner to the 2012 Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia, and had a long layover in Istanbul.

"I don't like 20 hours in the air and nine-hour layovers in Istanbul," he said. "I think Ashley is really fortunate because in Southern California there are a number of really good international coaches who are younger than me and have more energy."

Wagner said she has discussed with Nicks potential coaches who might be willing to travel and plans to finalize a decision within the next few weeks. She also said she has lined up choreographers for both her short and free programs for the upcoming season but would not say who they are. Wagner and choreographer Phillip Mills parted ways earlier this month.

"I have talked with Mr. Nicks about people who would be a good fit," said Wagner when asked about potential coaches. "I feel pretty set."

She said she has not had any tryouts with any coaches yet. Following the media event in Los Angeles, she is heading to Toronto to perform in Stars on Ice in Canada. There are nine shows remaining, with the last one set for May 10 in Vancouver.

Wagner isn't the only skater who will be impacted by this decision. Another top skater who could be impacted by this decision is Leah Keiser, who has been training with Nicks and Christa Fassi, and placed sixth at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season.

There has been little down time for Wagner, who competed in the world championships last month, was the captain of the U.S. team that won the World Team Trophy in Japan this month and now is touring.

But she did a have a few moments the past couple of days to think about Sochi with the media event. Wagner missed competing in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games by one spot, but helped the United States earn a third spot for Sochi. She's hoping she earns one of those three spots less than a year from now.

"I know," Wagner said when asked about all the pre-Olympic media hype. "It's happening. Sochi's coming, whether I like it or not."