by Alexandra Stevenson
(10 October 2013) Ashley Wagner, the 2012 & 2013 U.S. champion, who is now 22, was born in Germany, where her father, was serving in the U.S. military. That meant she spent her childhood traveling from home to home, which exposed her to a wide range of people and viewpoints. So, it is not surprising, that she was at ease giving her views on Thursday on a wrap-up question in a media conference call about the Russian President’s new law making talking about or even just mentioning homosexuality in the presence of minors a criminal offence punishable with a prison sentence.
She had previously forthrightly declared, “I have gay family members and a lot of friends in the LGBT community. I have such a firm stance on this. I believe we should all have equal rights, and I do not support the legislation in Russia. At the same time, it is not my place to go into Russia and tell them how to run their country! But, I believe the best way to show your support is to speak out about how you feel.” Since then, she says, “I’ve had a lot of support from people saying how much they appreciated what I said.”
She competed last December in the Grand Prix Final in December in the new, beautiful “Iceberg” Olympic Arena in Sochi, earning the silver despite a Free Skate which included two falls. The second one was really bad. She slammed down on her left hip and right knee, which had her in tears with pain after she left the ice. She was diagnosed with a “Hip Pointer” which meant her stomach muscles had been “traumatized”. Her knee was significantly bruised. She was forced to pull out of the Exhibition program.
“I had a great experience there, it was really exciting. The arena was spectacular and it was great to get a feel for the rink. I just hope my next trip there doesn’t end up with me coming home on crutches!”
Despite this unfortunate experience, she says she is looking forward to returning to Sochi. John Nicks, who accompanied Wagner to Sochi, subsequently decided, “I really can’t go joy-riding around the world at my age (then 83).” Wagner said, “Changing coaches in an Olympic season is not ideal. But I understand Mr. Nicks’ point of view.” Her “traveling coach” is now Rafael Arutyunyan.
When asked why she continues to try triple-triple combinations, given the risk, she shoots back, “A clean program, but no combination, will not get me on the podium. It’s not that difficult as long as I train it and am realistic about the result.
“You certainly aren’t going to win Olympic gold without one. I have landed it in competition, but with a down grade. I don’t want to leave anything out. I just need to get some consistency with this combination.”
She says she enjoying training with her new coach, although he sometimes goes into tirades of Russian with lots of gesture and they both end up laughing because she has no idea what he’s saying.
“He has the biggest personality I’ve ever seen in a coach,” Wagner admits, “But we have some fun times and he’s a great technician. I feel I’m in charge. I’m accountable for my work and I feel so much more responsible. He does a great job of explaining to me what I must do. It’s really great. When he’s annoyed with me he shouts in Russian. Of course, at that moment, I have no idea what he’s actually saying but I definitely get the gist of it!”
Arutyunyan had been stationed for many years in Lake Arrowhead, but that California ink closed down recently. He has previously worked with many famous skaters including Michelle Kwan and several of the Japanese stars. His style is a far cry from John Nick’s under-stated cynicisms, from the other side of the barrier, of, after she’d fallen flat, “Well, we’ll need a little more work on that!”
“There are skaters, whom I respect,” Wagner explains, “but don’t necessarily want to be like. I look to the past – Michelle, of course, and I admire Katarina Witt, who managed to be so feminine and sexy but not vulnerable.
“It’s too easy for athletes to get into their own heads, thinking of every little fault. It is crucial for you to have someone in your corner, reminding you, ‘You can do this! You are very well trained. Just go out and do it!’
“My daily schedule is to run through one full Short Program and one full Free Skate. Usually I’m just trying to push cardio as much as I can. I know I can do it. It’s just a matter of putting out 100%.”
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