Ashley Wagner wins short at NHK Trophy

Ashley WagnerAshley Wagner’s bid for a spot on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team just got stronger. At the NHK Trophy on Friday in Nagano, Japan, Wagner won the short program with 56.54 points, placing her ahead of Japan’s Miki Ando (56.22), 2007 World Champion, and Yukari Nakano (54.92).

Wagner’s routine set to “Once Upon a Time in America” featured a triple flip-double toe combination, a triple Lutz and two Level 4 spins. Although her double Axel was downgraded for under rotation, the program was still judged as the best of the day, and marks the first time Wagner has won a short program on the Grand Prix.

She is the second American lady this season to win a short program. Former U.S. Champion Mirai Nagasu won the short program last week at Cup of China but ultimately finished fifth overall following a rough free skate.

“I am pretty happy with my short program,” Wagner said. “Obviously first place is a good place to be, but it was not my best performance. My double Axel was downgraded. That was a little silly of me, but tomorrow in the long program I’ll be able to redeem myself and do a clean double Axel like a senior lady should be able to do.”

Wagner skated clean in the short program at the Rostelecom Cup but only finished fifth, likely because did not receive the levels that she expected on certain elements. While training over the past week in Graz, Austria, where her coach Priscilla Hill was for the Ice Challenge event, Wagner worked on improving her levels as well as the enterance on the Lutz, which lost her points in both programs.

Ando opened her program to a modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem” with a triple Lutz-double loop, although she two-footed the landing on the first jump. She fell on the triple flip but recovered to land a clean double Axel.

Reigning Junior Grand Prix Final Champion Becky Bereswill made her first career apperance on the Grand Prix with a 12th place showing in the short program. She has 36.26 points heading into Saturday’s free skate, where she will perform first.

In the ice dance event, 2009 U.S. Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won Rostelecom Cup, won the compulsory dance with a Tango Romantica valued at 38.09 points. They lead Great Britain’s Sinead Kerr and John Kerr (35.04) and third-place finishers Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (31.72) of Russia.

Americans Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles are 12th.

On Saturday, the competition continues with the original dance, pairs free skate, men’s free skate and ladies free skate. The free dance will decide the ice dancing medals on Sunday.

NHK Trophy is the fourth event of the 2009 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit. The series, now in its 15th season, consists of six international events in a cumulative, point-scoring format. The top six scoring athletes in each discipline move onto the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 3-6, in Tokyo, Japan, which will be combined with the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final for the second consecutive season.

The six Grand Prix events are Trophee Eric Bompard, Oct. 15-18, in Paris, France; Rostelecom Cup, Oct. 22-25, in Moscow Russia; Cup of China, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, in Beijing, China; NHK Trophy, Nov. 5-8, in Nagano, Japan; Skate America, Nov. 12-15, in Lake Placid, N.Y.; and Skate Canada, Nov. 19-22, in Kitchener, Canada.

The points toward the Grand Prix Final that are awarded for each place are 15 points for first; 13 points for second; 11 points for third; nine points for fourth; seven points for fifth; five points for sixth place; four points for seventh place; and three points for eighth. In pair skating, only the top six receive points.