SOCHI, Russia – Ashley Wagner wore a big smile and seemed remarkably cheerful for someone saying she couldn't wait to become a "horrible, horrible" person.
The United States' figure skater was pulling no punches as she prepared for the ladies' individual event starting on Wednesday night, insisting she will take a "vicious" approach into the competition in search of a surprise medal.
Wagner has made a bold and risky move by reverting back to her "Samson and Delilah" routine for her long program, following her disappointing showing at the U.S. Nationals in Boston last month.
While the 22-year-old came across as relaxed and jovial following a solid practice at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Tuesday, she was insistent that she would take a mean mood onto the ice for the ladies' event.
"My long program goes on the old tale of Delilah, who woos Samson and cuts off his hair," Wagner said. "She is this wily temptress who is a horrible, horrible, human being and she is vicious. That is exactly what I want to be in competition. It was a no brainer to go back to that character."
Wagner loves to exude fire and feistiness and resolved to take a hard-nosed approach into Sochi after being hurt by the criticism that followed her controversial selection on the team. She finished fourth in the Nationals, behind Mirai Nagasu, who was left off the team based on weaker form throughout the season.
Finding a balance between keeping a cool head and putting together a routine that emotionally resonates with the crowd and the judging panel has been a major challenge for Wagner. But however the cards fall, she is determined not to cruise through her Winter Olympic experience. She is here to fight.
"It is difficult because in a way to put on a performance you have to be emotional, you can't just be a zombie out there or it will come across that way," she said. "It is about finding that happy medium of emoting enough so that the audience can really enjoy your performance and staying technical enough so that you can really just get the job done.
"The fighting spirit comes out in the pieces of music that I choose. I like to choose stronger pieces of music and honestly I like to become somewhat of a vicious character in my program. These characters that I take on fight for what they want and that's really what I identify with."
Wagner's short program will be skated to Pink Floyd's 1970s hit "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and projects the kind of strong female character that the skater loves to identify with.
"It is mostly about me embracing being a woman but not having to be soft and delicate and pretty, but being strong and powerful," Wagner said. "That's really where I feel I fight through that program."
The star-studded women's field is one of the strongest in recent Games. Defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea is the favorite to make it two in a row, but faces stiff competition from teenage Russian sensation and home favorite Julia Lipnitskaia. Japan's Mao Asada and Italy's Carolina Kostner are also tipped to perform strongly, while the American contingent of Wagner, Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds are hopeful of an upset.
Despite her combative mindset, Wagner said she would not be specifically targeting any of her opponents.
"In this crazy, crazy world of figure skating it is easy to focus on a name or a target," she said. "But when you are going after someone it really only holds you back from what you are capable of yourself. I am focusing on challenging myself and making myself better. I want to put out a program that will do the fighting for me."
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