Flatt, Mirai Nagasu earn Olympic spots; Ashley Wagner third and Sasha Cohen fourth.
SPOKANE — She had every right to be spitting nails. Hurling some chairs. Grinding her little congratulatory third-place bouquet into the cement with the toe pick of her skate.
Ashley Wagner rose above it.
Smiling and blinking back tears, the 18-year-old Delaware skater with deep roots in Kitsap County showed the kind of grace a lot of athletes twice her age would do well to emulate.
Yeah, she confessed: It’s pretty harsh to finish third in an Olympic trial for only two American women’s spots in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
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“A little bit, obviously,” she said. “I’m just focusing on how far I’ve come this year. The fact that I made it to this nationals and put out what I did, I’m just so happy with that.
“But I’m really proud of myself,” she added, wiping back tears as her emotions got the best of her for the first time all week. It’s been an incredibly stressful year.”
Wagner in the past year hired a new coach, Priscilla Hill, bolting from her parents’ place to live with Hill, her mother and five dogs. It was a huge gamble, a major emotional burden to bear in a pressure-packed year when quiet normalcy was in order.
“None of us knew how it would be, how it would turn out,” Hill said.
Wagner turned the challenge into an opportunity, and the result was seen — and embraced — by about 8,000 newly adoring fans at the Spokane Arena.
Three skaters — Mirai Nagasu, Sasha Cohen and Rachael Flatt — were packed within a single point heading into the pressure-packed free skate. Wagner, who took a seat on a triple lutz in the short program, trailed by seven points.
The first of the four contenders to skate, Wagner laid down one of the most vibrant performances seen here all week. Well before she wound down her final combination spin, the crowd erupted. Wagner pumped her fist in triumph and beamed.
Her scores reflected the mood. Wagner’s free skate was the best of the night at the time, and moved her from fourth place to second — for a few moments.
Cohen followed her and, as many expected, couldn’t keep pace. She stumbled on one combination, then fell flat on a triple flip. Back to Stars on Ice.
Flatt skated next and was her usual, proficient self, acing the group’s most technically challenging program and posting a whopper overall score of 200.11 points. First of two Olympic spots, taken.
It would come down to Nagasu, and the 16-year-old, showing maturity beyond her years, held serve, moving into second place — and banishing Wagner to third.
Any other Olympic year, that rung on the podium would have put Wagner in the Olympic Games, a lifelong dream. Only an unusually subpar performance at last year’s World Championships left the U.S. with two spots, rather than three, for one of only a few times in history.
But Wagner emerged as a star last night. When the pressure was biggest, she shone brightest. She looked for all the world to be the skater with the best chance of showing up in Vancouver, popping off a Tara Lipinski or Sarah Hughes performance, and walking away with a gold medal. It wasn’t to be. And it won’t be. Because a big quirk of fate fell right on Ashley Wagner’s head.
To her enduring credit, she brushed it off, refusing to let it spoil a moment that she was claiming as hers and hers alone.
Wagner didn’t make the Olympics this night. But she reaffirmed her love for her sport. Which is good for her — and perhaps even better for the future of U.S. women’s figure skating.
“I got to go out there and have fun with it,” Wagner said. “It really is addicting just to enjoy skating, to finish and have the crowd just roaring. I loved it. And yes, I’ll be here four years from now.”
Count on it.
Ron Judd: 206-464-8280 or email@example.com