Ashley Wagner back on the ice after year of 'absolute insanity'

Ashley Wagner will compete in this week's U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C. A 19-year-old from Alexandria, Wagner has won bronze medals at this event in 2008 and 2010. During a recent practice session at her training location in Wilmington, Del., Wagner showed off some of her routines and talked about her hopes for this week's competition and beyond.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2011; 11:20 PM

The bad news came in a text message. That's how Ashley Wagner, a West Potomac High graduate, learned she barely missed making last year's U.S. Olympic team. As she sat with other female figure skaters in a rinkside lounge just after the U.S. championships, awaiting news from the selection committee, Rachael Flatt's phone buzzed first. Seconds later, Mirai Nagasu's beeped. Both could not suppress their joy.

Wagner quickly did the math, then grimly told her coach, "Let's go," an instant before she received her electronic rejection. She knew that in the competition to make the Olympic team, third place was as good as last.

Even a year later, Wagner, 19, can still feel the pain of missing out on the Vancouver Olympics by 4.08 points - almost precisely her penalty for a fall attempting a triple Lutz in her short program - and she isn't sure she can endure another long-haul, high-intensity push for the next Winter Games, which take place in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Yet she is back in action, eager to set her career on a fresh course at this weekend's U.S. figure skating championships in Greensboro, N.C., having slipped by not only last winter's wrenching emotional disappointment but also by a summer of frightening and mysterious physical problems.

"This year," she said, "has been absolute insanity."

When Wagner stepped on the ice in October in Nagoya, Japan, for her first major competition since last year's championships, she unveiled a new long program that she had rehearsed in practice, from start to finish, fewer than a half dozen times. Just two weeks before the NHK Trophy, the season's first grand prix event, she could barely stand up on the ice, let alone train.

In the circumstances, her fifth-place finish represented a major victory - not that anyone watching could have known.

"I wish," she said, "that I could have gone out with a huge sign over my head that said, 'This is my sixth run-through. Bear with me.'"

A racing heartbeat that had nagged Wagner for some time grew increasingly frequent last summer and was soon accompanied by full-body muscles spasms that left Priscilla Hill, Wagner's coach at the Skating Club of Wilmington, alarmed and aghast.

Occasionally during practices, muscles all over Wagner's body would begin gyrating simultaneously and inexplicably. The trigger for the spasms never was clear. The incidents were, Wagner said, more exhausting than painful, but she could not skate while they occurred.

"The full-body tremors were some of the most horrific things I've ever seen," Hill said. "It was like an epileptic seizure, except she wasn't on the ground . . . When it was at its worst, we didn't have a clue what it was."

Said Wagner: "I didn't have control over my own body. . . . I was extremely worried."

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