OMAHA — Ashley Wagner is bringing a halt to the roller coaster that has been US women’s figure skating.
The defending champion did exactly what everyone expected — hoped — she would do, easily winning the short program at the US Figure Skating Championships Thursday night. Her score of 67.57 was more than 2 points ahead of Agnes Zawadzki, and 3 points better than 2008 US champion Mirai Nagasu. The free skate is Saturday night.
The Americans have been looking for their next big thing since Michelle Kwan hung up her skates. Six women have won the last seven titles, and no one since Kwan in 2005 has strung together two in a row. Nagasu, Rachael Flatt, Alissa Czisny — they’ve all teased fans with their possibility only to fall apart on the world’s biggest stages.
But Wagner has the psyche and the skills to be a champion, and she isn’t afraid of the spotlight. Just like Kwan in her day, she embraces the expectations and then goes out and delivers.
Wearing a gorgeous burgundy dress with a black underskirt, she had the audience mesmerized from the time she stepped on the ice. She skated with such command the audience was afraid to take their eyes off of her for fear they might miss something. Though she didn’t do a triple-triple combination like Zawadzki or Nagasu, all of her jumps were done with such high quality they seemed that much better. And her spins were simply exquisite. They were so perfectly centered she might as well have been using a protractor.
Only Zawadzki, who won last year’s short program with a record score for nationals, was left to skate. But any chance she had of passing Wagner ended when she tumbled to the ice on her double axel.
Still, with the rest of her program packed with power, she had enough to move ahead of Nagasu. She really should have gotten clearance from an air traffic controller she had so much distance on her triple toe loop-triple toe loop combo, and her speed would impress any sprinter.
After last year, Nagasu is sure to be happy to be in the top three.
Earlier, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir took a big step toward their first pairs title, easily winning the short program.