Figure skater Ashley Wagner has changed the music and choreography of the long program she will perform at the Sochi Olympics after a mediocre performance that nearly cost her a berth in the Winter Games.
Wagner finished fourth at the recent U.S. championships after skating to “Romeo and Juliet” in her long program. She made the Olympic team only because the committee in charge of selecting the three-woman delegation chose her over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia on the strength of her body of work.
Wagner, who lives in Laguna Beach, said Tuesday she will revert to the “Samson and Delilah” music she used last season, when she won her second straight U.S. title. She will keep portions of the “Romeo and Juliet” choreography because it has become familiar to her through repetition.
She said she had suggested to her coach, Rafael Arutunian, that she return to the “Samson and Delilah” program before the Grand Prix final but he discouraged it.
“I had mentioned it to him earlier in the season and he told me it was crazy, which it is,” she said during an interview at her training rink, East West Ice Palace in Artesia.
“When I step out onto the ice to compete ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ I don’t feel like a fighter. I feel very nervous and it’s very difficult for me to get into the mind-set for it. I think he saw that it was kind of getting harder and harder for me to compete as the season went on. So after nationals I sat him down and I tried again. I said, ‘Raf, I understand that this is insane but I really need to change this. If you want me to be able to train it the way you want me to, I need to change it.’
“He wasn’t happy about it but I think he was able to see that it wasn’t clicking with me…. He understands and he has been doing an awesome job working with me to get this program as comfortable and as familiar as possible.”
She is hopeful that having music she enjoys and portraying a strong character should help reinforce her confidence, which was dented by her performance at the U.S. competition.
“When I’m competing, I need to be strong,” she said. “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.’”
She said the new program “is a Frankenstein of a program,” in that it is pieced together from last season’s program, parts of her “Romeo and Juliet” program and some moves done at different stages than they were before.
“The general setup of it is ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but we took pieces from ‘Samson and Delilah’ that I really liked, and I liked the character at those moments and we kind of placed them in methodically,” she said.
She plans seven triple jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe combination. “So far in training everything has been really comfortable,” she said.
Gracie Gold, who trains in El Segundo, won the national title and a ticket to Sochi. Runner-up Polina Edmunds of San Jose finished second and earned an Olympic berth.
Arutunian said he was aware she didn’t like the “Romeo and Juliet” program and that it was reflected in her skating.
“She always was telling me she doesn’t like music. It does not encourage her to get into the music,” he said. “I like her program a lot but she don’t like music and at last she said, ‘Please, just let me do it,’ and we just kind of make some adjustments and I think she loves it.”
He said he had never coached a skater who made so big a decision this late in the season but “she didn’t want to skate to that program,” and has been practicing the new routine well.
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