SOCHI, Russia — Upon earning her spot on the Sochi-bound Olympic team despite a nerve-stricken fourth-place finish at last month’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Ashley Wagner insisted that competing in the Winter Games wouldn’t be nearly so stressful.
She repeated the assertion after her last full practice on the eve of Wednesday’s short programs, which open the women’s competition at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace.
“I’m here; I’m living my dream,” said Wagner, 22, a West Potomac graduate who has already won a bronze medal, having played a key role in securing a podium-finish for the United States in the inaugural Olympic team event. “At the end of the day, I have been here for so long that it’s not that the Olympics are any less glamorous to me — but I’m used to it now. I feel I’m more settled. My dream has already pretty much been accomplished, so this is really more about me going out and skating than focusing on competing or being nervous.”
Wagner will compete 27th among 30 women Wednesday and ought to do so with confidence. Her short program, set to Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” sizzles with attitude and has been her strong suit this Olympic season.
Sochi’s women’s figure skating field is loaded, led by defending Olympic champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea, who’s known simply as “the Queen,” and 2010 silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan, a two-time world champion.
Asada, 23, has said that Sochi will be her last Olympics; the same is expected of Kim, whose gold-medal winning performance in Vancouver set a new standard of perfection. But Kim, 23, whose season has been limited by a foot injury, hinted Tuesday that she felt her time atop the sport may have been in 2010, although she looked elegant and at ease during practice.
And Asada, whose triple Axels have set a sublime standard for years, acknowledged earlier this week that she has been struggling with her confidence and plans to perform just one triple Axel, rather than two, in her program.
Wagner is the most experienced among the three Americans in the competition and did the hard work, along with 18-year-old Gracie Gold, of reclaiming a third Olympic spot for U.S. women with her strong showing at the 2013 World Championships.
Like Wagner, Gold competed in the team event at the Iceberg Skating Palace. Looking polished and elegant, she showed no sign of nerves and finished second to Russia’s 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia in the long program.
Wagner was asked if her time in Sochi had tempered her outspoken stance against Russian’s legislation banning what the government deems gay propaganda, Wagner said: “I am in a little bubble right now, so literally I don’t even know what’s going on in the outside world. But you know, my beliefs don’t disappear because I’m at the Olympics. I’m firmly against anybody losing any rights that they deserve. I will repeat this until the end of my days because I so firmly believe it. At the same time, I’m not going to go change my costume into a rainbow-colored costume. I’m just going to focus on what I came here to do. I haven’t changed my stance.”
Wednesday’s short programs get under way at 10 a.m. EST. Up first among the Americans is 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, the 2014 U.S. silver medalist, whose Olympic debut also represents her first senior level international competition. She’ll compete 12th.
Kim, whose international ranking has plunged as a result of her injury-related inactivity, competes 17th.
Gold will skate 22nd. And Wagner, a two-time U.S. champion, competes in the final group, stocked with the strongest skaters. Lipnitskaia, the reigning European champion, is first among them, 25th. Wagner skates at 17th, and Asada will close the competition at 2:27 p.m. EST.