Most years, the top three finishers at the National Figure Skating Championships are named as the US Olympic team. But 2014 proved the exception, as the U.S. Figure Skating Association decided to pass over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu, for Ashley Wagner, who fell twice during her routine and landed in a distant fourth.
Here’s what you need to know about Ashely and the controversy that now surrounds her:
1. USFSA Argues Wagner Qualified Based on Her Overall Credentials
The president of the organization told a pool of journalists: “If you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she’s got the top credentials of any of our female athletes. She has delivered consistently over the past year.”
In contrast, Nagasu, who placed fourth at the 2010 Vancouver games, had struggled for most of the past year before being the only contestant at Nationals to deliver a performance without any major error.
2. Wagner Grew Up as a Military Brat
Wagner is the daughter of former a former Army lieutenant colonel and moved seven times during her childhood. She began skating at the age of 5, while her father was stationed in Eagle River, Alaska. Her mother insisted she pursue either ballet or figure skating, and Wagner replied that she “wasn’t going to do anything in pink shoes.” When she was 7, she watched on TV as Tara Lipinski took the gold in the 1998 Winter Olympics, and she worked toward putting herself in that spotlight ever since.
3. Wagner Stayed Up All Night After Saturday’s Performance
After Saturday’s performance, Wagner mouthed an apology to the camera, then snuck beneath the stands to cry.
She was sitting in the stands of Boston’s TD Garden, watching a friend warming up for the men’s competition, when she received a text message informing her that she’d been selected for the 2014 Olympic team. Qualifiers are notified a half-hour before the news is made public, so Wagner was forced to seek out a discrete corner of the arena to indulge in a decidely different kind of crying.
Wagner said she was surprised by the decision, but that was happy the federation “was able to see beyond one bad skate.”
4. Wagner’s Mother Is From Russia
At only 22 years old, Wagner was likely to have other Olympic opportunities in her future. But the Sochi games are likely to be the only opportunity for many of Wagner’s Russian relatives to see her skate in-person. Or atleast for those less committed than her uncle, who took an 18-hour train ride to watch his niece compete in the Junior Grand Prix in Belarus.
5. Wagner Has Major Corporate Sponsors Including Covergirl
While the USFSA has an argument for selecting Wagner on the strength of her past year of skating, critics of the decision might wonder whether knowledge of Wagner’s high-profile sponsorships may have colored the federation’s thinking.
Nike has been a sponsor of Wagner since November 2012, and that December she became a style ambassador for Pandora Jewelry. This past October Wagner was named as a face of Covergirl.