And with the 2014 Winter Games looming, Wagner isn’t flinching over the chief shortcoming in her repertoire: the absence of a triple-triple combination jump, which has become expected of figure skating’s elite and is routinely performed with particular grace and amplitude by reigning Olympic champion Kim Yu-na and silver medalist Mao Asada.
Instead, Wagner is devoting the run-up to the Sochi Games to proving to herself — and to international judges — that she can land the triple-triple that might make the difference between winning an Olympic medal and coming home with memories of what might have been.
“A clean program will do a lot, but it will not win the Olympics,” Wagner, 22, said with customary candor. “And it most likely will not get me onto the Olympic podium. I, myself, don’t think I’m talented enough to get on the podium without a triple-triple. I’m just trying to be as realistic about the triple-triple as I possibly can be.”
A two-time and defending U.S. champion, Wagner narrowly missed qualifying for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
She started building her case for a place on Sochi’s podium in earnest Thursday at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, where practice got underway for Skate America, the first Grand Prix event of the season. The three-day competition, which runs Friday through Sunday, features an international field of Olympic and world champions and those aspiring to be.
Asada, 23, highlights the women’s contingent, which includes Americans Caroline Zhang and Samantha Cesario, in addition to Wagner.
Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi leads the men’s field, which notably lacks reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who hasn’t competed since 2010 because of a string of injuries. With Lysacek’s Sochi prospects in question, American hopes rest primarily on former junior hockey player Max Aaron, whose artistry isn’t yet as evolved as his impressive jumping skill.
The top U.S. prospects for gold in Sochi, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists, are sure to be cheered by a partisan crowd. The Michigan natives are seeking their fourth consecutive Skate America title.
And the pairs competition is expected to be dominated by reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia, who were undefeated last year.
Wagner isn’t the same person — and certainly not the same skater — she was at 18 when she fell just short of a spot on the Vancouver-bound Olympic team. The programs she has prepared with an eye toward Sochi are designed to demonstrate just that, showcasing her broader emotional range and technical ability.