Reigning U.S. Figure Skating Champ Ashley Wagner Battles to Make Sochi

After the short program at trials, she's in fourth place — and that's not good enough for an Olympic berth

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Brian Snyder / Reuters

Ashley Wagner competes in the women's short program competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, Massachusetts Jan. 9, 2014

It’s not a place Ashley Wagner likes. But she missed the last the Olympic team and now, four years later, the Alaskan finds herself in danger of missing the cut again.

After the ladies’ short program at the U.S. Figure Skating national championships in Boston, which also serves as the sport’s Olympic trials, Wagner placed behind two newcomers and one of the skaters who bested her to make the 2010 squad. Based on its international placements, the U.S. can enter three skaters to the women’s event in Sochi in February.

Gracie Gold of Chicago made a bold decision to change her short program and debut a new routine at trials – virtually unheard of in the sport since it’s risky to try out new music and new choreography so late in the season, not to mention when an Olympic berth is on the line. But it paid off,  earning her a stunning personal best of 72.12 points and first place in the short program. “I’m glad I was able to trust my training, and think I did a really great performance,” she said.

Gold has been taking risks all season. She moved from Chicago to Los Angeles before the season began, to train with Frank Carroll — Michelle Kwan’s and Olympic men’s champion Evan Lysacek’s coach — and seemed to thrive in her new environment.

Coach Carroll, meanwhile, seems to be the common denominator for the top three finishers at Boston. Polina Edmunds, the surprise second place skater on Thursday, is also coached by him, as was  Olympian Mirai Nagasu, who was coached by Carroll when she competed in Vancouver in 2010 (although she now trains by herself).

“When I came out here tonight, I knew how to get into the zone, and go out there like [I do] in training,” Edmunds said. “All my competitions this year helped to lead up to this.”

Wagner is now 7.41 points behind Gold – not an impossible gap to make up in the long program on Saturday, and she has a history of making up just such a deficit. In 2010, a fall in her short program put her 7.5 points behind the leader; she landed five triple jumps in the long program to move from fourth to third. That wasn’t good enough for an Olympic place because the U.S. could only send two women that year. But if history repeats itself, and she’s able to move up one spot, it will be good enough for a ticket to Sochi in 2014.