For Ashley Wagner, Skate Canada couldn't have been more important to setting the tone of her season. After a rough Nationals and Olympics last year and her decision to continue skating, she needed to gain some momentum here to carry her through the rest of this post-Olympic season.
Watching the NBC replay of the ladies free skate, one didn't have to be all that perceptive to gather that the infamous Tara and Johnny weren't all that impressed with Ashley's free skate. They stayed mostly silent through her performance, one positive comment coming from Johnny that she looked "stunning" and a patronizing pat on the head from Lipinski when she said she admired Ashley's "passion for the sport". Mostly, I noted a distinct lack of praise for her PCS and connection to her music (which they heavily criticized Miyahara, Pogorilaya, and Hicks for not having).
For Ashley, though, this performance was a huge step in the right direction, and here's why:
Realistically, the Grand Prix Circuit and World Championships this year will belong to the ladies of Russia, leaving the rest of the field to settle for what is left. At Skate Canada, Ashley adopted a less technically difficult free skate, leaning on her PCS and high grades of execution on less difficult elements to get her scores up. AND IT WORKED. Ashley was relaxed, comfortable and poised on the ice. Her technical elements are far from the top of the field, but there's time for that. What Ashley needed was confidence and a silver medal should do that.
Looking ahead to her second Grand Prix event, she's skating at Trophee Eric Bompard against two ladies favored to be on the top of the world podium: Elena Radionova and Julia Lipnitskya. For Wagner, a clean skate and bronze medal will be the realistic goal for her performance in France. The rest of the field is weak, so its shouldn't be hard for her to get the bronze medal. Leaving the Grand Prix circuit with two podium finishes should be the realistic stepping stone for Ashley as she gears up for the oh-so-important Nationals in January.
I agree that Ashley's free skate needs some additional technical goods; especially if she wants to get back on the podium at the US Nationals. The low difficulty-high quality approach will serve her well in the Grand Prix, but not against the likes (and triple triples) of Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds. Nationals will be the time to add back a triple lutz and possibly a triple triple to her free skate. Skated clean, what she did at Skate Canada could get her ON the podium, but not a gold medal. And maybe this isn't her year to win back her national title, but standing on a step of the national podium and getting back to the World Championships is certainly what Ashley needs to get back in the game.
It all begins with a step. And Skate Canada was certainly that for her.
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