Ashley Wagner is tired of being the “almost” girl. In the past few seasons, she has almost medaled at certain competitions, almost landed certain jumps and almost qualified for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games by placing third at the 2010 U.S. Championships.
“Second and third and fourth are great but I realized when I sat down and looked at my results that I hadn’t had a gold medal since the junior circuit,” Wagner said. “That’s something I’m really hungry for and I realized that if I’m going to really consider making the Sochi [2014 Olympic] team I was gonna have to make a change to get myself there.”
That change happened in June when Wagner ended her three-year relationship with coach Priscilla Hill and moved from Delaware to California to be coached by John Nicks.
“Priscilla and I reached the end of the road and she gave me as much as she possibly could,” Wagner said. “I was just getting too comfortable where I was. I knew once I get too comfortable I’m not going to improve anymore.”
Nicks – or Mr. Nicks as he is known in the skating world (Wagner said she has never heard anyone call him by his first name John) – was Wagner’s top choice and the only coach she tried out with when making her decision. He was already coaching reigning U.S. junior champion Courtney Hicks but after seeing Wagner skate and talking to a few people to find out if she would put in the effort, he agreed to take her on.
Nicks, a legend in the sport, has coached 40 U.S. champions at the novice, junior and senior levels, including world pairs champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner and Olympic silver medalist. He recently retired from coaching pairs and handed over the role of primary coach for U.S. pairs pewter medalists Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker to Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.
It seems Nicks’ approach to coaching is exactly what Wagner was looking for.
“He has such a presence on the ice and he’s really in control of everything that’s going on out there on the ice,” Wagner said. “He demands that you work hard, you don’t pop jumps and do every jump to the best of your ability and make the corrections he asks you to make and that’s about it.”
Nicks was unfamiliar with Wagner’s skating before this year but said she has been training very well so far.
“She has good balance between athleticism and artistry and when you get that you’re usually looking at a successful season,” Nicks said.
A lack of consistency has been Wagner’s biggest weakness over the past few seasons, causing her to fall below the podium several times. Nicks has spent the past few months working to improve her confidence as well as the success rate of her jumps.
“I’m hoping people see me as a totally different skater,” Wagner said. “I’m a lot more confident on the ice, my jump quality has definitely gotten up and I think that because I feel so much more confident I enjoy competing so much more.”
In August, Wagner competed at Glacier Falls Summer Classic so that she and Nicks could get a feel for how the other works in a competition setting. Wagner won the competition with a score of 146.18.
This weekend Wagner will skate in her first Grand Prix event of the season, Skate Canada International in Mississauga, Ontario, where she will be faced with a very competitive field of ladies including Americans Rachael Flatt and, Japan’s Akiko Suzuki and Russia’s Alena Leonova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.
Despite the tough competition, Wagner plans to medal at Skate Canada as well at NHK Trophy, Nov. 11-13, with hopes of making the Grand Prix Final. Her goals for the season also include earning the title of national champion in January in order to secure a spot on the world team, and then finishing in the top five at the 2012 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France.
“They’re pretty big goals but I think if I work hard enough and get my nerves under control I’ll be able to achieve them.”
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