Three-time U.S. National Champion Ashley Wagner is one of the oldest figure skaters contending for a spot on the 2018 Winter Olympic team.
“I think that this is a very tough sport to be older than 17, in all honesty,” Wagner, 25, told the Los Angeles Times. “I think it’s a youth-obsessed culture within skating and it’s because we have kind of let it become that. And I don’t think that there is enough importance placed on maturity on the ice.”
Wagner was 24 when she won a silver medal at the figure skating world championships in 2016, ending a decade-long medal drought for the American women. She shared the podium with winner Evgenia Medvedeva, 16, and bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya, 18, both representing Russia.
As Wagner prepares to compete in this year’s world championships, here is more information on the figure skater’s career and personal life.
1. She Has Won 3 U.S. Titles
In addition to winning U.S. titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015, Wagner won a bronze medal in the first Olympic team skating event at Sochi, Russia, in 2014. Wagner finished seventh in the singles competition, three places behind rival Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion.
Considering her age, some predicted Wagner’s chance to place on the 2018 Olympic podium had passed. However, Wagner has remained focused on proving she is capable of much more in her figure skating career.
“I choose to view the word ‘veteran’ as experienced, and experience is never a bad thing, because I’ve gone through the good experiences and the brutally terrible awful experiences,” Wagner told NBC sports during nationals.
Wagner, who finished second in this year’s nationals, 2.44 points behind Karen Chen, was the favorite entering the competition.
“This is perfect for me,” Wagner told NBC following her silver medal finish. “It gives me the opportunity to go in [to the world championships] with my head down and keep on working. I know where I lost my points. … I’m not planning on peaking here.”
If Wagner makes the PyeongChang Winter Games, she would become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.
“I think that for me, that world silver medal definitely turned the tables and got the ball rolling,” Wagner told the Los Angeles Times. “I think it helps show the importance of a true performance and a woman on the ice and having maturity and skating skills and life experience.”
In addition to rigorous on ice training, Wagner recently told the Daily Burn that she does a mix of cardio and plyometric work off the ice to help her maintain stamina.
“We do a lot of off-ice drills and jumps to really get the lower body going,” Wagner said.
Wagner trains alongside Adam Rippon who won his first National title in January. They begin their warm-up routine by jumping rope.
“Every morning we warm up with 100 doubles in a row before we get on the ice. It gets the blood flowing, loosens us up and gets the muscles engaged and ready to go. Jumping rope is a full-body exercise and it’s really underrated for how hard it is! It took both of us a while to get to 100.”
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2. She Began Skating at Age 5
Wagner began skating at age five in Eagle River, Alaska. As she recalls, her mother offered her a choice of ballet lessons or ice skating lessons. In a refusal to wear pink shoes, Wagner began figure skating in kindergarten.
“There was nothing to do there in the winter and I was driving my mom crazy,” Wagner told Skate Today. “So I had a choice of ballet or skating and I wasn’t going to do anything in pink shoes.”
According to her mother, Wagner quickly took to the sport and showed natural talent early on.
Always a competitor, Wagner told The Washington Post she strived for gold from the very beginning.
“From a young age, I was viciously competitive,” she said.
By 1998, Wagner set her sights on the Olympics. Wagner told Ice Network she first knew she wanted to compete in the Olympics when she watched Tara Lipinski win the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics on television.
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3. Wagner Moved Frequently as a Child
Born in 1991 at a U.S. Army base in Germany, Wagner hopscotched around the country for much of her early childhood. Wagner, daughter of an Army officer, moved seven times with her family before they settled in Northern Virginia when Ashley was 10.
Wagner trained in Kansas City and Tacoma, Washington until her family moved to Portland, Oregon, where she was coached by Tonya Harding’s former coach, Dody Teachman.
In January 2002, Wagner began training with Shirley Hughes in Alexandria, Virginia, which is when her figure skating career began to blossom.
After training six years alongside Hughes at Mount Vernon Ice Arena, Wagner moved her training base to Wilmington, Del., to work with Priscilla Hill, the former coach of Johnny Weir.
Wagner currently lives in southern California but considers Seabeck, Washington, her home.
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4. She Dubbed Herself Figure Skating’s ‘Almost Girl’
Wagner missed the 2010 Olympics by 4.08 points. Following the disappointment, she briefly considered leaving competitive figure skating and heading to college like most of her friends. Wagner even dubbed herself figure skating’s “Almost Girl,” according to The Washington Post. However, instead of backing down from her Olympic dream, she ramped up her training.
Wagner moved back home and continued her preparation. However, she went on to struggle through a challenging 2011 season, plagued by muscle spasms.
Realizing it was time for a change, she moved to Southern California in June 2011 to train with 82-year-old World Figure Skating Hall of Famer John Nicks and choreographer Phillip Mills at the Aliso Viejo Ice Palace. Nicks is known for training Olympic medalists including Peggy Fleming and Sasha Cohen.
“I needed to be pushed. I needed to be uncomfortable,” Wagner told The Washington Post. “I definitely wanted somebody who wasn’t going to mother me. I’m such a strong-headed person and so stubborn, I don’t need someone to be sweet to me. I needed someone to say, ‘This is how it’s going to be, and this is how you’re going to do it.’ ”
In 2012, she went on to win the ladies’ title in the Four Continents event and won the first of back-to-back U.S. championships with Nicks guiding her way.
Nine months before the Sochi Olympics in April of 2013, Nicks informed Wagner he could no longer travel to competitions at age 84.
Wagner’s current coach is Rafael Arutyunyan, who competed and coached under the former Soviet system.
5. Her Selection to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Was Met With Controversy
2014 was a rollercoaster year for the figure skater who experienced many highs and lows on her Olympic journey. Instead of defending her U.S. title in 2014, Wagner finished in a crushing fourth place.
Despite her poor performance at the U.S. Championships, Wagner was named to the Olympic team the day following the competition. U.S. Figure Skating’s governing body heavily weighs skaters’ international results over the previous season, rather than relying on a single qualifying event. Wagner’s consistently high results from previous competitions earned her a spot on the team. However, the decision confused many who saw Mirai Nagasu outperform Wagner at the national championships.
“If you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she has the top credentials of any of our female skaters, USFS President Patricia St. Peter told reporters following the selection. “We don’t use a single competition as the sole measurement for who should participate in the Olympic Winter Games.”
Wagner represented the United States alongside Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds.