SOCHI, Russia ― Ashley Wagner insisted that the Internet bullies who attacked her controversial selection to the U.S. Olympic figure skating team had provided the motivation for her performance of redemption Saturday night.
Wagner skated a clean program in the ladies short program of the inaugural team competition as the U.S. moved into third place at the midway point and survived the elimination cut.
After finishing fourth at the national championships in Boston last month, Wagner was still chosen for the Winter Olympics due to a resume buoyed by a strong Grand Prix season. The selection sparked a wave of vitriol on social media against Wagner and in support of third-place Mirai Nagasu, who narrowly missed a medal at the Vancouver Games.
"The first week it kind of really hurt me especially because it was more that [the critics] were really attacking my character than my skating abilities," Wagner said. "But then I realized that people who have something mean to say tend to shout the loudest.
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"It was on my mind with the media frenzy over the last couple of weeks that I needed to prove to myself and everybody else that has even doubted my belonging here that I am here to compete, to be competitive.
"Get used to it."
Wagner’s ability to perform on the big stage was questioned after she froze in Boston, falling twice in her long program. However, she held her nerve at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Saturday and seems to have restored her confidence at just the right time with the ladies individual event a week away.
However, her score of 63.10 was disappointingly lower than Wagner expected, putting her as the fourth-ranked ladies skater on the night. Japan’s Mao Asada, who placed third, fell during her routine.
"I know roughly when I skate a good program where the score should end up," Wagner said. "So to score that low was very disappointing. "I was hoping to score around somewhere close to my personal best (69.26)."
USA's place in the top five was in some jeopardy after the pairs and men’s short programs on Thursday, but Charlie White and Meryl Davis had the highest score of all the teams in the ice dance short program, while Wagner, despite her disappointment in the judging, continued the positive momentum.
Russia led the team competition midway with 37 points, five ahead of Canada and 10 more than the U.S. Teams accumulate 10 points if their skater or pair finishes first in their category and a point less for each lower position.
The new team competition allows a nation to perform two substitutions in between the short and long programs. Gracie Gold is projected to be the U.S. selection over Wagner for the women's free skate in Sunday's final round.
Wagner, 22, looked like a totally different character from the timid figure who struggled in Boston and then had to endure some withering criticism. She revealed this week that Nagasu herself reached out to offer her support.
"That was all I really needed," Wagner said. "Beyond that I just knew that my skating would do the talking and I didn’t need to say anything."