(Reuters) - Figure skater Ashley Wagner, who was gifted a spot on the U.S. Olympic team despite an error-strewn national championships, is changing her troublesome long program in a bid to boost her medal hopes at the Sochi Winter Games.
Wagner, who finished fourth at the U.S. nationals but was controversially handed the final Olympic berth ahead of third place finisher Mirai Nagasu, said it was “insane” to make such a change so close to the February 7-23 Games but that it was a risk she had to take.
“After I found out that I was on the team I sat (coach Rafael Arutunian) down and pleaded with him to let me change my long program,” Wagner told reporters on a conference call. “I wasn’t able to connect very well with it and I think because I was so uncomfortable with it, it made it difficult to compete.
“So going into the Olympics I want to feel as comfortable and as confident as I possibly can.”
As a result, Wagner is ditching her “Romeo and Juliet” long program in favor of last season’s “Samson and Delilah.”
Sochi represents an unexpected second chance for Wagner, 22, who had looked ready to watch the Olympics from at home.
But while the U.S. squad is selected based largely on the results of the national championships, a nine-member selection panel has the final say on the makeup of the team and the power to consider past results and other factors in making a decision.
In the end, the panel believed Wagner, a two-time U.S. national champion, offered a better chance of landing on the Sochi podium.
“Already in training I feel like I am skating with so much more conviction with this program and I really believe in this program that I think that it will easily be forgotten that I have not been skating this the whole year,” said Wagner, who parlayed her “Samson and Delilah” skate into a fifth place finish at last year’s world championships. “Nationals was me skating scared. It was me letting that moment overwhelm me.
“I thought more about what I could lose than what I could gain, what I was working for. ... It was the wrong mindset going into such a huge competition.”
Wagner said she was stung by the backlash she received for being selected ahead of Nagasu, who finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
While disappointed by U.S. figure skating’s decision, Nagasu was not bitter and even offered support to Wagner.
“Through this she has been really phenomenal and they way she has handled this I have really admired her for that,” said Wagner. “She texted me after I was placed on the team and said, ‘You belong on the team. Good luck, love you’”.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue