By Helene Elliott
7:19 PM PST, January 21, 2014
Figure skater Ashley Wagner has revived the core of her old "Samson and Delilah" long program for the Sochi Olympics, responding to her heart and to a mediocre performance that nearly cost her a spot on the U.S. team.
Wagner fell twice during her "Romeo and Juliet" long program at the U.S. championships and finished fourth. She made the Olympic team when the selection committee skipped over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia to choose Wagner, who has won two national titles and earned top-five finishes at the last two world championships.
After proposing the music switch earlier this season, Wagner finally persuaded her coach, Rafael Arutunian, to bring back "Samson and Delilah" from last season, with changes to the order of jumps, spins and footwork and seven planned triple jumps. She's seeking a more emotional connection to her music and her character than she had with the "Romeo and Juliet" routine.
"When I'm competing I need to be strong," she said Tuesday at her practice rink, East West Ice Palace in Artesia. "I'm not a pretty princess and I'm aware of that, so I like music that is really intense, really bold, and characters that in a way almost have a dark side and are kind of evil because for me, that's when I feel my strongest and fiercest, when I'm not necessarily the good girl.
"'Samson and Delilah' just provided a sense of comfort and a style of skating that is much more natural to me. I felt that I was really forcing it this season with 'Romeo and Juliet.'"
Making major changes this late is bold but not unprecedented. Sarah Hughes, unhappy after finishing third at the 2002 U.S. championships, re-cut the music of her long program to enhance the drama, added speed, and revamped the ending. Her risk paid off when she won gold at Salt Lake City.
"Changed it right after nationals and it made a world of difference for me," she told the Chicago Tribune. "I liked the program a lot more. It was more fun to skate."
Wagner, who lives in Laguna Beach, said she doesn't want casual figure skating fans to remember her by her performance at the U.S. championships. She believes the new program will play to her strengths. "At nationals you don't want to peak, and I definitely didn't peak," she said.
She did find one positive to finishing behind Gracie Gold and 15-year-old Polina Edmunds at the U.S. competition.
"It might be a blessing in disguise that I'm not going in as the national champion and not going in as the favorite for the medal," Wagner said. "But I've accomplished a lot in the past couple of years and I think internationally I have established myself as someone to watch out for. That skater did not show up at nationals and I need to make sure that I am the athlete that achieved those titles and brought home the hardware and really show people that I deserve a spot on this team, which I fully believe that I do.
"So I think not going in as the champion will be a nice little breather for me."
Chicago Tribune reporter Phil Hersh contributed to this report.
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