Despite falls, Wagner wins 2nd US title
By Nancy Armour, AP National Writer
OMAHA, Neb. -- Flawed, but still first.
Ashley Wagner became the first woman since Michelle Kwan in 2005 to win back-to-back titles in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, managing to hold off up-and-comer Gracie Gold despite three major mistakes Saturday night.
Wagner was subdued as she waited for her marks, surely thinking she'd blown her chance to repeat. When her score was announced and she saw she was still in first, a look of shock crossed her face.
Wagner finished with 188.84 points, about two ahead of Gold. Gold won the free skate -- posting the second-highest score ever at the U.S. meet, no less. But the 17-year-old had too much ground to make up after a dismal performance Thursday night in the short program left her in ninth place, more than 13 points behind Wagner.
Earlier Saturday, Olympic silver medalists and 2011 world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their fifth straight dance title, matching a U.S. record. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir won the pairs title.
There is something about defending the title that brings out the worst in the American women. Since 1990, Kwan is the only other woman to win consecutive titles (granted, she did win eight straight). Six women have won the last seven crowns, and the reigning champion has almost always had a total meltdown. Rachael Flatt is the only defending champ who even managed to stay on the podium the next year.
Wagner, though, seems to be made of different stuff. She's been rock solid since moving to California to train with John Nicks in the summer of 2011. She won the U.S. title last year, had the best finish by an American at worlds since 2007 and won the silver medal last month in the Grand Prix final.
And she sure looked loose as she came out from the dressing rooms, clapping along with the crowd to Agnes Zawadzki's "Rhapsody in Blue" music. Her opening triple flip-double toe loop-double toe combination was gorgeous, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd. She also did a triple loop in and out of a spread eagle -- incredibly difficult.
But she didn't have her usual fire, almost as if she was skating not to lose rather than skating to win. And then came the falls. She was off-balance in the air on the lutz, and couldn't right herself in time to save it. With the triple loop only seconds later, she didn't have time to regroup. She pulled herself together only to two-foot her last jump, the triple flip.
At 21, Wagner is a far more complete skater than Gold, and that's what made the difference. n