Alexandria's Wagner Is Unfazed by Success

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., Jan. 25 -- By the time she turned 12, Ashley Wagner had lived in Germany, California, Alaska, Kansas, Washington and Virginia. She wore a protective helmet while learning to skate on frozen ponds near Anchorage. She trained under Tonya Harding's former coach in Vancouver.

More recently, she has worked on triple jumps alongside former men's world junior champion Derrick Delmore at the Mount Vernon Ice Arena.

The daughter of a now-retired Army lieutenant, Wagner, 16, long ago accepted major change as commonplace. She learned to find comfort in uncomfortable situations. She figures her itinerant upbringing helped during the past year as she skated from a world of high hopes and optimism into one of high stakes and searing competition.

On Thursday, less than a year removed from her third-place finish at the world junior championships, Wagner earned a second place in the short program of the U.S. senior figure skating championships, putting her into a somewhat unexpected position for Saturday's concluding free skate:

She is in contention for the U.S. title.

"I'm kind of surprised by myself over this past year that I've been on the ice," Wagner said while sitting in a hotel lobby shortly before departing for Friday's pre-competition practice. "I thought going into it I would be star-struck. I kind of found out, I'm not. I think the view I have has really helped my skating."

Certainly, on Thursday, it helped. Wagner sat in the unenviable position of skating last among the top competitors, 18th of 20 overall. By the time Wagner began her program and launched into what would turn into a near-perfect triple Lutz-triple loop -- the most difficult element anyone attempted all night -- her nearest rivals had already collected stuffed animals pitched from the crowd and changed out of their costumes.

While warming up, Wagner had to listen to the raucous ovation for Mirai Nagasu, 14, who would stand in first place by night's end. She heard the cheers for Rachael Flatt, 15, who, like Nagasu, hit a triple-triple combination jump and received high marks from the judges. Flatt would end the night in third place.

"Instead of getting nervous," Wagner said, "I have found it exhilarating."

Wagner's coach, Shirley Hughes, found that delightful to hear Friday.

"She just can't wait to get out on the ice," Hughes said. "She's kind of like a racehorse."

Hughes, sitting on a chair near Wagner, pulled a photograph from her wallet and dropped it on a coffee table. In the photo, Wagner wore a beret, a tweed blazer and fashionable boots. She stood on a boulevard in Paris. The picture was taken in November, and Wagner, who was sightseeing at the time, could not have looked more at home. It was during that trip that she won her first major international senior medal, claiming the bronze at a Grand Prix event there.

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