Why Fourth Place Is Good Enough to Make the Olympic Figure Skating Team

Ashley Wagner will represent U.S. women, along with Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds

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Jared Wickerham / Getty Images

Ashley Wagner acknowledges the crowd during the medal ceremony following the free skate program during the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on Jan. 11, 2014 in Boston.

It’s not a decision that fans of figure skating will likely understand, much less agree with, but the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) named fourth-place finisher Ashley Wagner to the Olympic team.

Wagner, along with the remaining ladies’ members and the pairs and ice dance Olympians, got the good news in the only way that matters – by text. The USFSA nominates the team, which the United States Olympic Committee must approve.

Wagner, who won the national championships last year, had two bad skates on Thursday and Saturday at this year’s event, which also serves as the Olympic trials. She was fourth after the short program, and remained in that position after an error-filled free skate in which she fell on two triple jumps and omitted one jump in a combination. “I danced with danger last night, and I never want to feel that uncomfortable again,” she said after having a good cry of relief over earning a ticket to Sochi.

Wagner vaults over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu, who scored eight points more than Wagner and finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics, for a place on the Sochi Olympic team. Placements at nationals are not the sole factor in choosing Olympic team members. The USFSA selection process also includes consideration of an athlete’s body of work and performance over the past season. Wagner finished third at the International Skating Union’s (ISU) Grand Prix Final, while Nagasu, who finished eighth and third at her two international events, did not qualify for the final (only the top six scorers are invited to compete).

“The deliberations are confidential, but I can vouch for the fact it was a fair process. The discussion was fair, all the results were analyzed,” said USFSA president Patricia St. Peter. “Mirai’s placement at the 2010 Olympic was not a factor in our selection guidelines.”

Wagner won last year’s nationals over Gracie Gold, this year’s new ladies’ champion, with a similarly flawed free skate, but held on to the top position since Gold was too far behind after the short program to make up the difference. Wagner seemed to be aware of her habit of letting nerves get to her during high-pressure events. “I was definitely disappointed because I didn’t really show up when the world was watching, and skating really needs someone to show up when the world is watching,” she said. “I was terrified I was going to have something to regret, something I was going to go home and mull over and figure out what I did wrong.”

Joining Wagner in the ladies’ event will be Gold and newcomer Polina Edmunds, whose ethereal but technically difficult free skate won both the audience and judges over. Just 15 (she turns 16 this year, which meets the age minimum for competing at the Games), Edmunds made her debut at a senior-level competition at these trials, and her first international competition at the senior level will be at the Olympics. But that didn’t seem to phase her, at least not yet. “Even though it will be my senior international debut, I think I am senior level,” she said. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s my debut or not. I think all season I have been kind of proving myself with international competitions.” Edmunds is the U.S. junior champion and her finishes at international events at that level qualified her for the ISU Junior Grand Prix final, where she finished fourth.

There was less controversy on the ice dance and pairs side, with the top three teams from the ice dance event – Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Maia and Alex Shibutani – being nominated to the team. Pairs skaters Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir and Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay were also nominated. Based on U.S. pairs’ standings at past world championships, only two teams can compete in Sochi.

The men’s team will be announced after the free skate on Sunday.