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Ashley Wagner Stars on Ice 2019 Interview

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Photo by Robin Ritoss for Figure Skaters Online

I chatted with Ashley Wagner before the Chicago performance of Stars on Ice and got all the details on her new podcast, launching this summer! I was at the show reporting for Figure Skaters Online, and wrote a story for the site about our conversation:

Ashley Wagner doesn’t know what she’s doing.

She’s busy—coaching at seminars and the Skating Club of Boston, performing in Stars on Ice and other shows, commentating skating events for the Olympic Channel, documenting life on her new website and her Instagram account—but she doesn’t have a plan like she did when she was training for the Olympics.

It’s an unfamiliar spot for the three-time U.S. Champion, 2014 Olympic Team Bronze Medalist, and 2016 World Silver Medalist, but she says it is still an “exciting” time.

“I love writing, and documenting the transition from being a professional athlete into being whatever I’m going to be—people don’t talk about that enough and it’s a really scary, uncomfortable transition,” Wagner said during a pre-show interview before the Chicago performance of Stars on Ice in May. “I feel like in the past, for athletes, it’s kind of a shameful thing to talk about, but everyone goes through it. The more I talked to retired athletes about what it was like, the better I felt.”

So she’s launching a podcast exploring that concept, inspired by a quote from actress and comedian Gilda Radner, who said these types of transitions are full of “delicious ambiguity.” Wagner plans to launch the podcast this summer, after wrapping up the 2019 Stars on Ice tour.

Read the rest in the full story on Figure Skaters Online for more on Wagner’s podcast plans, new life in Boston, and commentary gigs. And there is more to come from my day at Stars on Ice – check back later in the week for a Q&A with Jason Brown!

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Impressions: 5 Thoughts from Skate America 2017

The Grand Prix series wrapped up this weekend with Skate America — which usually kicks off the series. While I thought the timing was weird at first, it was definitely exciting to close out the series with an event broadcast live and in primetime on NBC here in the U.S. I’ve got five thoughts on five Americans at their home-country competition:

  1. Bradie Tennell! I’ve been watching her since this summer, when I worked on her website for Figure Skaters Online, and am such a fan. I remember watching her at previous Nationals and enjoying her skating, but she has kicked it up a notch this year. Her poise and confidence at this event were excellent. I know some are cautioning against anointing her as the next great American hope after one good performance, but it hasn’t been just one. She has been delivering consistently since July, and built on those successes to deliver two clean performances here, under pressure, and grab the bronze medal. If she continues on this trajectory, I predict big things for Nationals. (And just maybe…the Olympics!)

    Skate America Bronze Medalist

    Bradie with her coach, Denise Myers (left), and choreographer, Scott Brown (right). Photo Courtesy Figure Skaters Online

  2. You can always count on Maia and Alex Shibutani to be prepared and deliver clean, consistent programs. But here at Skate America, they looked even stronger and sharper than their last event, Rostelecom Cup. It particularly stood out to me in their short dance, where they brought such energy while still being precise in their movements and nailing the technical content. They are gunning for that third U.S. title — there is no resting on the laurels of success with these two.
  3. Speaking of no rest…who else loved it when Adam Rippon said that his trip to the Grand Prix Final was his reward for his excellent Skate America performance? His work ethic in this Olympic season — while also coming back from his broken foot — is incredibly impressive. If I were picking the U.S. men’s Olympic team, Adam would be on it, no question. He dislocated his shoulder on his opening quad lutz and gave no thought to giving up. He delivered a clean program from there. Johnny Weir and some of the other commentators have mentioned it, but the way that Adam takes his time and breathes through each element is so refreshing and easy to watch. Some of the guys attempting record-breaking quads look like they are gritting their teeth through these programs, but Adam is performing while nailing his jumps.
  4. It was sad, and somewhat shocking, to see Adam’s BFF Ashley Wagner withdraw mid-long program. People from the Twitterverse to commentator Johnny Weir were chattering about the timing of the withdrawal (should she have done it mid-program? toughed it out? withdrew after the warmup?) to the severity of the injury. Whatever you think, it was tough to watch someone who is so synonymous with being a fighter end a competition like that. In the last Olympic cycle, Ashley made her case for the Olympic team with her international successes in the fall, then faltered at Nationals. This time around, she has given herself no choice but to rise to the occasion at Nationals, after low scores at Skate Canada (even though she ended up with the bronze) and withdrawing here, plus some struggles internationally at the end of last season. Before she withdrew from the competition, her focus in comments to the media was on getting enough training time before Nationals, so even if she pulled out a win here and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, it seems unlikely that she would have gone. Hopefully she can buckle down and get the training and preparation in before heading to San Jose for Nationals at the end of December.
  5. The throw jumps by Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are absolutely breath-taking, in the long program especially. They are timed perfectly with the music, she lands them with such strength and excellent posture, and he throws in a nice little flourish with his arms on the landing as well. Yes, they are still struggling with the side-by-side jumps, but they are maxing out points in their strength areas, like these throws and their huge triple twist.
  6. Ok, I have to do a bonus #6, on a non-American. Can’t help myself. How lovely was Satoko Miyahara? I loved her a few seasons ago and honestly, all her injuries and time away from the ice made her slip from my radar. Her subpar showing at NHK Trophy didn’t help, but, wow, was she great here. She skated with such emotion and heart, and her in-between skating is just stunning. I know her jumps aren’t the highest, but the way she puts together the full package of jumps, spins, and choreography is so appealing. Much like Ashley Wagner, she is a mature skater and genuine performer, which I’ll take over a jumping bean any day.

Between now and the Grand Prix Final (which is Dec. 7-10 in Nagoya, Japan), I’m going to take a look at some of my favorite elements (spins, lifts, etc.) in programs this season!


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2017 Worlds Predictions: Ladies

Alright, Worlds officially begins tomorrow (yay!) and it’s time to make my last round of predictions: the ladies.

Sentimental:
Gold – Carolina Kostner, Italy
Silver – Ashley Wagner, USA
Bronze – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Bonus: Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond in 4th and American Mariah Bell in the top 8 (to guarantee three Olympic spots for the U.S. women)

My sentimental predictions are really out there, and most likely impossible, I’d say. Carolina is on the comeback trail, and while she has made steady progress, her technical content doesn’t quite measure up to the top ladies yet. But I just love watching her skate, and the fact that she has made a comeback after her controversial ban. I’m all about the skaters here for the love of the game. Like my girl Ashley Wagner, who I would love to repeat as World silver medalist.

I think she has a great shot at the podium (both my sentimental and rational one), because she is such a fierce competitor and wants to prove that last year’s medal wasn’t a fluke. The withdrawal of Satoko Miyahara of Japan also helps, as unfortunate as that may be.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

Rational:
Gold – Evgenia Medvedeva, Russia
Silver – Anna Pogorilaya, Russia
Bronze – Ashley Wagner, USA

Medvedeva is so ridiculously consistent that I’d be crazy to have her off of either of my podiums. If she doesn’t win this event, it will be because she had to withdraw. She’s only lost once in her senior career, after all, and it wasn’t to anyone in this field (it was to fellow Russian Elena Radionova at the 2015 Rostelecom Cup). Russian teammate Anna Pogorilaya has had such a consistent season that I think she will land on the podium as well.

My bonus sentimental picks for Osmond in 4th and Bell in the top 8 are because those two ladies are some of my personal favorites – I love the spunk and flair in their skating, and will cross fingers that the jumps are reliable in Helsinki. A top 8 finish by Bell and a medal from Wagner would ensure three spots at the Olympics for the American women. Bell and U.S. champion Karen Chen both said in their pre-Worlds teleconferences (you can listen under the Video tab on IceNetwork) that they aren’t thinking about it, and that skating their best should be enough to lock it up for the U.S. I think it’s safe to say that even if those two allegedly aren’t thinking about it, it is at the forefront of every fan and journalist’s mind at this point, on both the ladies’ and men’s side for the U.S. men.

I’ll be crossing my fingers and watching the live streams. Let the fun begin!


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Time to Grow

Sometimes I judge programs too harshly upon first viewing. I remember watching Ashley Wagner’s “Moulin Rouge” long program early in the 2014-2015 season and thinking it was kind of terrible. I thought the lyrics were overkill, used in too many of the cuts throughout the program. Fast forward to her stellar performance at 2015 U.S. Nationals, and she made me love it. I was thrilled she kept it around for another season, and was on my feet, screaming and cheering at 2016 Worlds in Boston when she brought the house down with an even better, more technically difficult and emotionally poignant rendition of this program.

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Image Source: USA Today

Today, I’d say that this program would be a great blueprint for how to use lyrics well in a skating program—Wagner and her choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne chose songs from the movie that captured the essence of that story, as well as the story of resilience that they wanted to portray.

This season, there have been a few programs that I didn’t enjoy upon first viewing, but have really grown on me as the skaters settled in to them, and made improvements as the season has progressed.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA), free dance “Under Pressure”

This song choice seemed more like noise than music to me, at first. They created quite a buzz by beating Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the free dance at Skate Canada with this program, but I still wasn’t convinced. But after seeing two excellent outings of this program, at 2016 U.S. Nationals and Four Continents this week, I’m enjoying it much more. I love how the arm movements and lifts subtly reference the lyrics without being too cheesy or showy. The sharpness of their movements and commitment to the choreography are also fantastic. The entries and exits to all of their lifts are so difficult, yet they pull them off without any disruption to their speed or smoothness.

 

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (France), free skate “Sound of Silence”

I saw this program live at Skate America this fall and was underwhelmed. Partially because I associate this song with Nyle DiMarco’s performance on “Dancing with the Stars” and how incredible and impressive it was to watch someone who is deaf perform a fantastic routine to this song, and partially because James and Cipres had a rough skate that day and seemed visibly annoyed with each other. When they were on the “Ice Talk” podcast, they talked with Jackie Wong about putting this program together, and the intentional way that it starts slow and soft and builds throughout. Between learning that, and then seeing them perform with so much heart and confidence at Europeans, I’ve totally come around to this program. If you don’t watch the whole thing, you’ve at least got to check out the incredible, difficult death spiral entrance at about the 4:01 minute mark in the video:

 

Maybe I wrote off these two programs too early in the season (I’m pretty sure it was October, after all). I’m excited to see how much farther they’ll go in the month or so that both of these teams have before the World Championships in Helsinki.

Which programs have grown on you this season?


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The Ladies Rise to the Occasion in Kansas City

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

Last year after U.S. Nationals, I mused about how important mental toughness is in skating, and how well it was displayed across the disciplines. This year, no disrespect to the men, pairs or dance skaters, but the top three finishers in the ladies’ event completely wowed me with their mental strength and will to do their best. And each of them rose to the occasion in a different way:

Gold medalist Karen Chen didn’t succumb to the pressure of leading after her exquisite short program. Plenty of skaters can’t hold on to the momentum of a great short program in the free—we’ve seen it happen to poor Ross Miner two years in row at Nationals, finishing second after a great short only to falter in the free. But that wasn’t the case with Karen:

 

Reigning World Silver Medalist Ashley Wagner had to skate right after hearing Chen’s giant score and the crowd roar in response. But in true and gritty Wagner fashion, she dug deep for another emotional, strong performance that brought the crowd to its feet:

She was rocking a new dress for the long program (I suspected she might be one to do a mid-season switch), and I loved the ombre color and the back strap detail.

Mariah Bell had the most serious errors of the top three, with a hopped landing on her opening triple-triple combo and a fall on her second jump, the triple loop. She could have folded under the pressure or given up in disappointment at that point (as it looked like Gracie Gold and Mirai Nagasu did later in the free skate, after making errors of their own.) But instead, Bell calmed down, righted herself, and skated beautifully the rest of the way:

And man, did it pay off. Because it’s Bell who is the bronze medalist, who punched her ticket to the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, while Gold and Nagasu were left off the team.

Gold and Nagasu seem to be the cautionary tales, in terms of mental strength. They both have a history of letting a program collapse once one mistake creeps in, rather than forgetting the mistake and moving on to the next element. Obviously that’s easy for me to say from behind my computer screen, but I think it’s something all skaters strive to do, whether they are on the world stage or just an adult skater still plugging away on her junior moves. Previous mistakes can’t impact what happens next.

The way Chen, Wagner, and Bell responded to their unique adversity on Saturday night is an important step in their personal skating journeys, and experience that will serve them well going into a pressure-packed Olympic season.

Chen proved that she could overcome boot problems and injuries to put together two clean programs at a high-stakes event. Hopefully this gives her the boost to perform like she belongs among the best in the world when she competes at international events.

Wagner showed yet again that she can tune out the noise (both literal and figurative) around her and deliver the goods. And she’s going to need that when skating against the ridiculously consistent Russian and Japanese ladies at Worlds and the Olympics.

Bell demonstrated poise, maturity, and commitment when she salvaged the rest of her program after the early mistakes. That ability to reassess and stay calm will be invaluable as she heads to her first World Championships and starts to experience more pressure and expectations after her strong showings this season.

I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty good about this crew heading to Worlds and staking their claim on three spots for the U.S. ladies in the 2018 Olympics.


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Best Costumes of the Season So Far: The Ladies

It’s been awhile, blog. But I’m back to discuss something of utmost importance: skating fashions.

The second half of the season is about to kick off, and that tends to be the time of year where skaters switch up their look, or get an awesome new costume just before nationals. Sometimes I think it’s a great idea (see: Sasha Cohen’s gorgeous maroon Olympic free skate dress, compared to the gold she wore earlier in the season), but sometimes I mourn the departure of their first costume (RIP Meryl Davis’s stunning deep blue 2014 free dance dress, swapped for a lilac version for Nationals and the Olympics).

So, before any potential switches, I’m going to take a look back at my favorite costumes of the year (so far). Let’s start with the ladies’ looks that I loved:

Ashley Wagner, long program

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Image Source: goldenskate.com

The gray ombre in this dress looks fantastic with Ashley’s coloring, and fantastic on the ice. I love how the dress is almost an extension of her and of her movements; it is fitted perfectly and the understated skirt flutters ever so slightly. The simple silhouette is a good contrast to the mega-sparkle factor. Her program, set to “Exogenisis: Symphony Part 3” by Muse, is about coming out on the other side of a dark, difficult emotional experience and the gray evokes that mood.

Evegenia Medvedeva, short program

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Image Source: Excelle Sports

Her music has a river/winter theme, and the intricate beadwork on this dress looks like a river flowing, or even melting snow. I love the color, and appreciate that she didn’t go with a more straightforward blue. This one really pops on the ice. It looks like a river you might find in a watercolor painting, as opposed to in nature. But please, lose the gloves. My hatred of gloves is well-documented here and here.

Elena Radionova, long program

I haven’t always been the biggest Elena fan, in terms of both skating style and costume choice, but this dusty pink number was a game-changer. I love the unique semi-straight skirt, and the subtle gray accents. It’s a nice, more modern touch that the beadwork extends onto the mesh top portion of the dress, and gives the dress more of a runway-fashion look.  Plus, the swept-up bun is the perfect hair choice with this dress, clean and elegant.

Kaetlyn Osmond

Kaetlyn is owning it on the ice this season, with two medals on the Grand Prix circuit and a 4th place finish in a tough Grand Prix Final. And she looks great doing it—calm, confident skating, and sparkly, sleek fashion. I mean, just look at her face in this photo! She is clearly having some fun. And I’m even a fan of the gloves (shocker!), because they fit the French character of her short program so well. Bonus shot of her equally beautiful long program dress:

 

I kind of love the short sleeves—they remind me of a dress I had back in the day, and, based on some Googling, are a more modern take on the typical look for the lead in “La Boheme,” her long program music.

Fingers crossed none of these ladies make a mid-season costume change…but if they do, you’ll probably be hearing about it here on Twizzle Talk. Next up: ice dance!