LONDON, Ontario — Neither Ashley Wagner nor Gracie Gold, U.S. figure skating’s reigning gold and silver medalists, finished atop the podium Saturday at the world championships.
But by finishing fifth and sixth respectively in the overall, they achieved something no American skaters have since 2008 — earning a third spot for U.S. women at the Winter Olympics, which will be held in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 7-23.
Wagner, 21, a West Potomac graduate, and the 17-year-old Gold needed a combined placement of 13th or less to secure the third spot that was lost heading into the 2010 Vancouver Games. They achieved it with room to spare.
“I always said my main goal coming into this Worlds was getting the three spots back,” said Wagner, who paid the steepest price four years ago for the loss of that third spot, just missing the cut for Vancouver as the country’s third-best female skater. “Getting on top of the podium or on the podium would be icing on the cake. For us, what we accomplished, with this strong international field, is more than standing on top of that podium. It’s something we haven’t been able to do for, what, five seasons now?”
But the night belonged to 2010 Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na, who proved herself still peerless despite returning just three months ago following a 19-month hiatus from competition. Skating to music from “Les Miserables,” Kim landed every jump in her program with effortless grace, opening with a triple lutz-triple toe combination. All six of her triple jumps were flawless.
While the crowd erupted in applause and showered her with bouquets, judges showered her with marks worthy of a supreme champion. Kim’s total for her short and long programs, 218.31 points, crushed her nearest competitor by nearly 21 points.
Carolina Kostner of Italy (197.89) claimed silver, while Mao Asada of Japan (196.47) took bronze.
Asada, 22, a two-time world champion and Kim’s longtime rival, skated to Tchaikovski’s “Swan Lake” in a white dress accented with feathers. And she looked as delicate as a snowflake as she reeled off jump after jump, including a light-as-air triple flip-double loop-double loop combination.
Skating in the unenviable first position in the final group of competitors, Wagner landed seven triple jumps, docked just over one point for an under-rotated triple toe, and lost another point for a fall during a relatively straightforward step sequence. But her marks, combined with a well-rendered short program Thursday, were favorable enough for a fifth-place finish (187.34).
Gold did her part earlier in the night, holding her nerve and staying upright despite a few wobbles in her free skate to finish sixth (184.25).
Neither Wagner nor Gold is guaranteed a spot in Sochi. U.S. Figure Skating will make its selections later this year. But with their solid showing this week, both made a powerful case for what would be their first Olympics.
Wagner, the two-time defending U.S. champion, hadn’t performed her free skate, set to music from “Samson and Delilah” without a fall since taking a hard tumble during a Grand Prix event in Sochi in December. And her world championships got off to a rocky start when she arrived in Ontario on Tuesday but her luggage, containing her skates and competition dresses, did not.
But with her proper gear in hand, and wearing a glittered gold dress, she delivered on the most difficult jumps in her program Saturday but stumbled on a step sequence. “My bad way,” Wagner said later. “That happens in practice every now and then. It was a silly mistake and nothing I’m too worried about.”
Gold wasn’t as polished with her free skate as she had been at U.S. championships in January, with judges taking an edge deduction but crediting her with all seven triple jumps attempted. But she handled the pressure of her world championships debut admirably, proving herself a steely competitor and solid jumper, albeit with room to grow in her artistic presentation.
“For my first worlds, it was important that I put out two strong skates, and I think I accomplished that today,” Gold said.
The most daunting thing about the weeklong experience for the Chicago teen appears to have been asking Kim if she could have her picture taken with the 2010 Olympic champion, known in her native South Korea as “Queen Yu-Na.”
Gold ended up at the same restaurant as Kim for lunch Saturday but could only stare, deciding to wait until after the competition to approach her idol.
“The Olympics are something that we dream of. You watch every two years, and that’s sort of your ultimate goal,” Gold said. “ I think I’m on the right track.”
Earlier Saturday, five-time U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White wrested the ice dance title from defending Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, their longtime rivals. It’s the second world title for Davis and White (189.56 points), the 2011 champions, who asserted themselves as favorites for gold in Sochi. Canada’s Virtue and Moir (185.04) took silver; Russian’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, bronze (169.19).