SOCHI, Russia — Ashley Wagner launched a withering attack on figure skating's hierarchy and the Winter Olympics judges on Thursday night after being pushed down to seventh in the ladies' individual competition.
The 22-year-old American fought back tears as she revealed her frustration and anger with the judging at the Iceberg Skating Palace and suggested that the two Russian skaters, gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova and fifth-place finisher Julia Lipnitskaia, had been given unfairly inflated scores.
"I feel gypped," said Wagner, who skated two programs without any falls and punched the air with delight at the end of her free skate.
[Photos: 45 amazing faces of Ashley Wagner]
However, she ended up behind Lipnitskaia, who fell in each of her programs; Mao Asada, who fell heavily during a disastrous short program; and fourth-place Gracie Gold, the fellow American who tumbled to the ice on Thursday.
Wagner appeared to take particular exception to Lipnitskaia's scores and claimed the judging controversy would damage figure skating's popularity.
"People don't want to watch a sport where you see people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean," she said. "It is confusing and we need to make it clear for you.
"To be completely honest, this sport needs fans and needs people who want to watch it. People do not want to watch a sport where they see someone skate lights out and they can't depend on that person to be the one who pulls through. People need to be held accountable."
Wagner's total of 193.20 was 7.37 points behind that of Lipnitskaia, the Russian sweetheart who won the hearts of the host nation with a pair of performances that helped win gold in the team competition. That was despite Lipnitskaia's falling heavily on both nights and being visibly dismayed at her performance once she left the rink after her free skate.
"They need to get rid of the anonymous judging," Wagner said. "There are many changes that need to come to this sport if we want a fan base, because you can't depend on this sport to always be there when you need it. The sport in general needs to become more dependable."
Sotnikova won gold with an incredible score of 149.95 for her long program, 18 points above her previous season's best. Defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea took silver, and Carolina Kostner of Italy secured bronze.
"I am speechless," Wagner said, when asked how she felt the competition had transpired and Sotnikova had landed a gold medal that few saw coming. "The crowd was very supportive of the Russians, so to be a Russian figure skater must have been absolutely incredible to get out there … period."
Wagner's inference could not have been more obvious — the Russians, on home ice, had an advantage. She, like many others, will long feel that there was something fishy going on during this competition. Not that she was totally surprised.
"I came into this event knowing pretty well that that was how it was going to go," she added. "It is not fair to the skaters who work so hard to become noticed if they are not going to have a sport that backs up what they are doing."
Wagner vowed to return in four years to have another crack at the Winter Games when they are held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang. So, too, did Gold and 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, who fell once in her long program but ended up in ninth place.
Gold's outside chance of claiming a medal effectively evaporated when Kostner and Sotnikova skated so strongly immediately before she took her turn.
"Of course I hoped for a medal, but when that happened, I knew it was gone pretty much and that I was going to be fourth," Gold said. "I am happy with how the Olympics have gone for me. You always want to skate a clean program, but I couldn't be happier."
Gold ended up 11.20 points back from Kostner but has catapulted herself into the spotlight over the past month and won an army of followers. If she does carry on to 2018, she will have plenty of support.
Out of the three, it could be the quiet-spoken Edmunds who has the biggest upside. She is likely to be a major threat in 2018 if she continues to improve at such an impressive rate.
Aside from the bronze won by Wagner and Gold in the team event, the U.S. women came up empty-handed, mirroring events of four years ago when Mirai Nagasu finished fourth and Rachael Flatt came in seventh. That said, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future, and all three Americans will take some positive memories in their own way.