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2013 U.S. National Championships

Ashley Wagner Victorious in Nail Biting Ladies Final

by George Rossano

"Yoda" channels the force for Ashley Wagner.

Gracie Gold Dazzles in Free Skate.

(26 January 2013)  In one of the most exciting National event finals in recent years, Ashley Wagner squeaked out a victory to retain her title and repeat as National Ladies Champion before an audience of approximately 6200 (unofficial).  Wagner is the first Lady to repeat as Champion since Michelle Kwan in 2005.

Wagner skated more aggressively than in the Short Program and was in command of her program until the seventh element when she fell on a triple Lutz with an edge call.  Before she could regain her composure, she fell again on a triple loop that followed soon afterwards.  A nicely executed step sequence gave her a chance to recover her composure and she nailed her last element, triple flip, though with three negative GoEs.

"I was feeling great that first half then I started to over think it a little Ė went down then popped up really fast and I think I still hesitated by the time I got to the next jump," she said. "Stood up on that last flip and I think that the turnout as a whole was okay. It could have been better but the season that Iíve had so far really helped me with this placement."  Later she added, "Iím hitting myself in the head because going into it I was thinking about how itís been so great in practice and thatís the last think you should ever do. I think that sometimes when you think too much, things go wrong and I was thinking a little bit too much and then I got nervous going into the next jump, but then before the flip, I knew I had to pull myself together if I wanted to be able to hang on to this national title, so I pulled through."

On defending her title she remarked, "I donít think anyone could have prepared me for how difficult this national championships was going to be. I think that all things considered, Iím very happy with what I achieved. I think that my season definitely helped me get to this point and I want to congratulate Gracie because I heard she had a lights-out skate, phenomenal, and for a first year senior, thatís very impressive. Awesome job to her, as for myself, Iím pleased to have another national title under my belt and I think that this lights the fire in my belly to keep on pushing through to perhaps Four Continents and Worlds.Ē

Sitting in Kiss and Cry, Wagner and the audience shared the same uncertainty waiting for the marks, wondering of the huge marks Gracie Gold put up would hold up for the victory. "I was very uncertain as to what was going to happen waiting for these scores to come up," she said. "I knew the program as a whole was very solid, taking out the two falls, so I wasnít sure what they [judges] were going to do with it. But I knew I skated a great short program, so I knew I was in a great position for the long program [if I] made a mistake."

When the marks came up, Wagner had a look of relief, as the judges scored her component marks high enough to give her 2.27 point victory, though a second place finish in the Free Skate. "Itís definitely not the performance I imagined having," she said, "but the fact that I was able to become repeat champion, with those two performances, thatís something to be proud of." She added, "To join that type of a club (repeat champion) with Michelle (Kwan) is absolutely an honor and I am so pleased to have been able to accomplish that. That was one of my main goals this season; I wanted to be able to say I was a repeat national champion. And I think that I definitely lucked out this competition. I think my past performance helped me at this competition and knowing that, it only pushes me more to make sure that I have the rest of the season be nice and solid."

Wagner's training going into Nationals was interrupted by her hip pointer in December and a bout with salmonella.  She remarked, "I never like to make excuses for myself, so I think that they might have contributed a little bit. I didnít have my typical nationals training and I think that I was maybe a little bit fatigued in the program, but those two issues were mental more than anything. I think that my coaches did a phenomenal job preparing me with what they were given and I think that today it was an overwhelming sensation to have all of that pressure and I did the best with what I was given."

Now that her title defense in under her belt, Wagner plans to go back to working the triple-triple combination into her program.  "I canít wait to go home, work on that triple-triple going into worlds and have a couple more competitions left, so hopefully thereís another strong push going into them," she said.

While Wagner's defense of her title was in many ways a relief, Gracie Gold's Free Skate performance was a joy. After a ninth place finish in the short, Gold had a comeback skate for the ages in the long. She landed seven triples including triple Lutz - triple toe loop and double Axel - triple toe loop. The only error in her program was an edge call on a triple flip, for which she received -1s from two judges. Her spins and step sequence all achieved level four. It was a superb performance that had the audience on the edges of their seats.

On her comeback she said, "I stopped focusing on what was around me, the crowd, the screaming, the other skaters, the pressure, the expectations Ė I let it all go. And I just pictured myself at my rink in Chicago and even the practices here Ė how I would skate if I was practicing. Just the feel of the knees, the feel of the ice, one thing at a time. I didnít get over my head with thoughts or expectations, I just went out there and skated like I know how to skate."

She added, "I actually thought that it could be possible because I have a very loaded long program with difficult elements. I have a triple Lutz-triple toe and a double Axel-triple toe with all other triples in the program and I have really nice jumps. And I think Iíve really improved a lot on my component marks, so I knew if I skated a perfect program, I knew I would be able to pull up into the podium. I was thinking maybe fourth at best and I ended up being second. I am so happy and so proud. But I did it was possible (to go from ninth to second)."

The first year senior describer her experience saying, "This is my first U.S. championships (as a senior) and it was horrifying at the beginning and now itís been amazing and itís been an amazing competition. And I am so proud of myself that I was able to come back after my very, very bad short program. Itís been the best Iíve ever done, especially this season. Iíd like to congratulate these other ladies because they are amazing."

In preparing for the long she said, "On Friday, I had an unofficial practice at another rink and it was a little shaky getting out there. I wasnít in the best frame of mind, I was really upset at myself. As I started skating I started thinking, this is OK, I can do this. Itís just the short program. You know, Iím kind of down (in standings) from medaling, but that doesnít mean anything in terms of what I can put out in the long program and I just kept skating and I had to just take it one step at a time. This is the jump that Iím doing in the practice, Iím not doing the program right now so it doesnít matter."

Though not officially announced yet, it is certain Wagner and Gold will represent teh U.S. at the World Championships in March.  Indeed some cynics said after the competition that the judges jiggered their marks to insure Wagner and Gold would be on the world team, though to us the marks seemed to be what the deserved to be.

Agnes Zawadzki started out strong in the Free Skate, with her first two jump elements (triple Lutz and triple toe loop - triple toe loop) but then faded.  She double a flip which also had an edge call, fell on a solo triple Lutz, and had an under-rotation call on a double toe loop in combination.  Her components were third best of the group  and she achieved level fours on her spins and steps.  But it was not enough to overcome the points lost in the jumps.  It was a fairly strong skate, but with other fairly strong skates in the final warm-up, she fell to seventh in the long to finish on the podium in third place.

I felt pretty good," about the free skate, she said,  "a little upset with the scoring and stuff. I know I couldíve done better. I let my mind get ahead a little bit. But overall I thought it was a good push."  She added, "I think I was more mentally better. I really knew my stuff more than last year Ė I definitely had a lot of doubt last year. My mindset is a lot different and I felt like I could do it."

Assessing her experience this year she explained, "I want to start by saying that these two are such great skaters, and like they said, they always push me and keep me motivated to train every day and do my best. I think this competition has built my confidence. Iím starting to build it because I didnít have it last season, but this competition has brought it up a little bit, so Iím very happy with that. The long didnít go as great as I wanted it to, but Iím very happy with how I ended up."

Another surprising, stand-out performance of the ladies final, was the Free Skate performance of Courtney Hicks.  She landed six triples, including an excellent opening triple flip -triple toe loop.  Her only error was a popped triple loop, and had she landed it she could have ended up with the bronze medal.  Her excellent spins were all level four and her step sequence level three.

 "I had one mistake in the loop, but recovered pretty well," she said. I think all the jumps were really good.  I performed the best I have all season."  She explained, "I think it just got a little excited, and I lost focus for a minute (on the loop), but then was able to pull it all back together."

Her experience she said, "It was awesome. It was a lot of fun to feel all the energy, and I guess to have such a large ice surface."

Christina Gao placed fourth in the long, and finished fifth overall.  Her performance had only two minor errors but lacked the spark of the higher placed skaters.  She had a n edge call on triple Lutz and a small control glitch on her closing flying sit spin, which was called level 1.  She landed six triples in the program.

About her performance she said, "It felt really good, I was really nervous before it but, I went out there and did what I could. I landed everything and I feel like I fought to the end, so I think I did my best so wherever that puts me is where itís going to put me."  She added, "This is what I have been training. I landed everything and landed it well. I got a little tired at the end which was not normal for me. Usually in practice Iím totally fine. I donít know, out there I felt really tired. I guess itís been a long week, but other than that, even in my short yesterday, besides the one spin, itís how Iíve been training and same with my long, so Iím happy."

Mirai Nagasu, let a chance to make the podium slip away with a performance marred by several flawed jumps.  eleventh in the long, and seventh overall.  In many ways it was a strong performance with a mature presentation, and received the fourth highest component of the group.  But her jumps were not nearly as solid as in the Short Program where she placed third.  She had an edge call on triple flip, and four jumps were called under-rotated, and on a solo triple loop was downgraded.  Two of her spins were level four, as was the step sequence, while the third spin (flying camel) achieved level two.

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