Deemed “The Almost Girl” in 2010, Ashley Wagner has assumed the role of the token tragic figure skater who falls under the weight of expectations and unfortunate circumstances. She’s been this girl over and over — the girl who chokes.
And yet on Saturday, April 2, 2016, Wagner became the World Figure Skating Championships’ Women’s Silver Medalist. She effectively ended the 10-year drought on American women’s medals at the championship.
There’s no denying Wagner as an accomplished figure skater and icon. Her career has extended across 19 years and she has competed as a senior lady for nine seasons. At 24 years old, she is old for figure skating.
She is a three-time U.S. National Champion (2012, 2013 and 2015), the winner of four Grand Prix Events and she’s a three-time Grand Prix Final medalist. She was a member of the 2014 Winter Olympic team and won a bronze medal in the team event.
However, her career has been punctuated most memorably by failure. In 2010, she fell short of qualifying for the Olympic team by one place. She sat out Vancouver as an alternate.
Then in 2014, another Olympic year, the world of figure skating was behind her in her quest to make the team. She was a front-runner. The Almost Girl would get her turn at Olympic glory. That year, there were three spots and she had to claim one. However, she came in fourth place and once more it seemed she would fall just short of her dreams.
But in an unprecedented turn of events, the US Figure Skating Association announced she would be competing in Sochi with the other two top finishers at nationals.
Tracy O’Neill wrote in a Rolling Stone article, “the thing about Ashley Wagner is that she’s kind of like a zombie; a very nice zombie with élan and poise, yet still impossible to beat back. You cannot defeat Ashley Wagner, because defeat only positions her for a feeding frenzy of success. It’s her best quality, and perhaps her defining one, too.”
Wagner said in that interview, “My entire career has been about resilience and about not having something go my way. Having to fight back and prove to people that I’m hungry for it and capable of being a national champion. I’m constantly having people tell me that I can’t, that I’m not good enough, that I’m too old, that I’m not graceful enough. I’ve always just heard it and I’ve always just used that as fuel. There’s nothing that I love doing more than proving people wrong.”
Wagner also said, “I never want to settle for good. I want to settle for the best. That’s my goal. I never really enter a competition just to get second place and be good. I enter a competition because I want to win.”
It’s the attitude of a champion that allows her to push beyond everyone and everything.
O’Neill wrote in the context of the 2014 nationals, “asked if she had since consulted a sports psychologist, Wagner said she had relied instead on the unvarnished advice of her father, Eric, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. He told her simply, ‘Don’t be a wimp.’”
Now, as the world silver medalist, she has validation. In an interview with NBC after her performance, Wagner said, “I have a world silver medal because of something I did, not because of something everyone else didn’t do. That is so sweet.”
She is the type of person that responds to hard facts. Now she has this one to hold onto.
And she is not done. Wagner is committed to training for the uphill battle that is the 2018 Olympics.
Wagner said in an interview with NBC following worlds, “I have a long ways to go before I’m the athlete I want to be for 2018.”
This is the kind of person we can look up to: someone resilient and unafraid to throw herself to the wolves for what she loves.