Ashley Wagner, the 2012 U.S. champion ladies singles figure skater, spent part of a well-traveled childhood in Tacoma and Vancouver. She'll compete this weekend at Skate America at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

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Ashley Wagner, one of the top contenders to represent the United States in ladies singles figure skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics, is a Virginia native training in California, but she feels a special affection for the Northwest.

Wagner, 21, was raised in a military family and moved nine times, including stops as a preteen in Tacoma and Vancouver, Wash. A grandfather, a retired ranger who served at Scenic Beach State Park, lives in Seabeck.

“The Pacific Northwest is always very special to me because I would always come back there for my summers and spend them in Seabeck,” Wagner said. “I’m always so happy to go back out there.”

Wagner, the 2012 U.S. national champion, gets her wish this weekend when she competes at Skate America at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

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Wagner’s priorities for this season — which began for her on Oct. 6 with a victory at the Japan Open — include defending her national title and competing at the worlds championships. This year, in France, she finished fourth.

“It would be icing on top of the cake but it’s not crucial,” Wagner said of reaching this year’s Grand Prix final. Skate America is the first of six stops on the series. “But if I got to the final it would mean I had a great Grand Prix season. I would take it as a good thing.”

Many good things have come Wagner’s way since she placed third at nationals in 2010 (in Spokane) and just missed a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.

Along with wins at the U.S. Championships and the Japan Open, she earned a third 2012 victory in February at the Four Continents Championships in Colorado, her first international win.

The success validates Wagner’s 2011 decision to relocate to California and train with 82-year-old John Nicks, who has coached skaters to 16 U.S. titles in singles and pairs.

“When I came to him he saw that I had the goods; I just didn’t know how to deliver them,” Wagner said. “I got into a little bit of a frenzy when I was competing, so I was never able to perform the way I did in practice.

“He really helped me learn how to control my nerves, calm myself down and skate with confidence because he has a system. It works, and once you get onto the ice, it’s not a surprise about what you’re going to do.”

Wagner earned high marks last season for a free skate routine based on music from “Black Swan.” This season she’ll be skating to an orchestral version of “Samson and Delilah.”

“I’ve always been really drawn to programs that tell a story and have a character, so I’m able to portray Delilah as this femme fatale,” Wagner said. “It’s fun for me. It feels like it helps me grow as a skater. I’ve been working on my expressions, so I feel like I’m really growing into that program.”

No woman has won back-to-back U.S. national titles since Michelle Kwan won eight straight (1998-2005). Wagner could change that early next year in Omaha, Neb.

“I really want to be able to prove to everybody watching that I’m capable of having two successful seasons and that I can really keep my head on straight, that this past success that I’ve had wasn’t just a fluke,” she said.


• Wagner, who also has grandparents who live in north Seattle, skated with a Canadian version of Stars on Ice during the offseason. “I was able to skate with Kurt Browning (four-time world champion) on a daily basis and Jeff Buttle (2008 world champion),” she said. “Both of them helped choreograph the show, so working with them, learning the choreography and the steps, really helped me improve as a skater, I would watch Joannie Rochette every single night and see how she interacted with the audience and really cast a spell with her skating. (Rochette, a Canadian, is remembered for skating to a medal at the Vancouver Games after her mother died unexpectedly before her short program.) I tried to observe and learn from what she was doing and put that into my own skating.”

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