And the American women have failed to earn that berth back over the past three seasons. Wagner hopes that will change in her first world championship appearance this week in Nice, France, since her 16th-place finish in 2008.
“This could be a huge worlds for the U.S. ladies,” Wagner, 20, said. “I was on the team that lost the spot. It’s kind of a personal quest for me; I want to be on the team that gets the spot back.”
Wagner seems perfectly positioned to help author the turnaround. She won her first U.S. title in January, six months after moving to Southern California to train under esteemed coach John Nicks. Last month, she won a gold medal at the Four Continents Championships, defeating Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada. There, she set a personal scoring record and posted the season-best point total (192.41), emerging from the competition a legitimate medal contender in Nice.
“To me it would be a huge accomplishment to get onto the worlds podium,” Wagner said by cellphone from Aliso Viejo, Calif. “That would be an incredible way to top off the season.”
The once-dominant U.S. women haven’t claimed a medal of any kind in the five world championships since 2006, when Baltimore’s Kimmie Meissner won gold and Sasha Cohen got the bronze. That year had marked the 12th straight worlds in which U.S. women had won at least one medal. The reasons given for the decline range from improved international competition, particularly from Asia, to a relatively new judging system that stresses technique over artistry.
The number of representatives each nation gets at the Olympics and world championships is determined at the world championships of the previous year. The calculation goes like this: For a country to win three slots for its athletes, the combined placement of its top two — or only two — finishers cannot be greater than 13th.
In other words, if either Wagner or Alissa Czisny finishes third and the other no worse than 10th (or fourth and ninth, fifth and eighth, etc.) the U.S. women will be able to send three women to the 2013 world championships.
“She now has a lot of expectation from a lot of people,” Nicks said. “She has that heavy responsibility.”
‘I was terrified of him’
Wagner knows better than any woman in the United States the value of that third slot. She earned her first trip to world championships as the third-place finisher at the 2008 U.S. nationals. Two years later, when she finished third again at the U.S. championships, she couldn’t go anywhere; she failed to make the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver because only the top two advanced.