Ashley Wagner takes huge risk weeks before Sochi

Lawrence Yee
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 10: Bronze medalist Ashley Wagner of the United States celebrates during the medal ceremony for the Team Figure Skating Overall on day 3 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Medals Plaza in the Olympic Park on February 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Medal Ceremony - Winter Olympics Day 3

Most figure skaters spend an entire season honing their routines for the Olympics.

Ashley Wagner just changed hers – three weeks before she's scheduled to compete at the Sochi Games.

The 22-year-old has dropped her "Romeo and Juliet" free skate and reverted to last season’s “Samson and Delilah” program.

Wagner told the L.A. Times she was nervous performing "Romeo and Juliet," and how it was "very difficult" for her to get into a competitive mindset. Nerves led to her disappointing showing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships earlier this month. Wagner fell twice during her "Romeo and Juliet" program, placing a disappointing fourth.

She was still named to the three-women Olympic team over bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu, mostly due to her stronger results over the two last seasons.

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Although Wagner used "Samson and Delilah" during the 2012-13 season, the program she will skate in Sochi includes pieces of choreography from "Romeo and Juliet."

"The general setup of it is 'Romeo and Juliet,' but we took pieces from 'Samson and Delilah' that I really liked, and I liked the character at those moments and we kind of placed them in methodically," she told the Times.

Debuting a new (or in this case, significantly revamped) program on Olympic ice is very risky. Skaters rely upon muscle memory for both their jumps and choreography. It often takes months of practice and repetition for skaters to reach that level of comfort with a program.

Still, it’s a risk that might pay off. In 2002, Sarah Hughes completely changed the last third of her "Daphnis et Chloe" program before the Salt Lake City Olympics so that the ending would be more powerful. She won the gold medal. And Wagner’s teammate Gracie Gold debuted a new short program earlier this month that helped propel her to her first national title.

Re-using music at the Olympics isn’t unprecedented, either. Michelle Kwan used the same Rachmaninoff selections in 2002 as she did in 1998, and led after the short program at both Olympics. Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier recycled their two-year-old "Love Story" program in 2002. That choice won them the gold.

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"Samson and Delilah" has been used in many medal-winning routines. 1968 Olympic champion Peggy Fleming used the Saint-Saens opera in her 1968 free skate. More recently, 2006 bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle and 2010 bronze medalist Joannie Rochette skated to the music.

Wagner hopes to follow in their footsteps. "'Samson and Delilah' just provided a sense of comfort and a style of skating that is much more natural to me," she explained.

The team ladies free skating event is on Feb. 9 and the individual ladies free skating is Feb. 20.