Skating wunderkind


She has a fondness for cheeseburgers and lemonade, and at West Potomac High School she’s a junior on the Honor Roll.

For 16-year-old Ashley Wagner of Alexandria, Saturday night could not have been a sweeter affirmation of all those long, grueling early-morning training sessions at the Mount Vernon.

Before a televised audience estimated at 50 million, Wagner took the bronze medal in the senior ladies division of the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, catapaulting her into the ranks of the world’s best female figure skaters, where she now ranks 14th.

Think Nancy Kerrigan or Tara Lipinski, her personal role mode.
Wagner, an odds on favorite for the 2010 Winter Olympics, was also selected by the U.S. Skating Federation to compete in both the Four Continents and World teams, which compete next month in Sweden. Recently Ashley Ashley placed third at the Trophe Eric Bompard competition in France with a total score of 158.63, a score which was her new personal best. Ashley also finished in 5th place at her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada with a total score of 150.06.

Born in Heilderberg, Germany, where her father was serving in the military, her family moved here shortly before the 9/11 attacks and she waited anxiously with family members on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 to hear of his whereabouts.
Coached by Shirley Hughes and choreographed by Jill Shipstad-Thomas, the 5’3″ Wagner had a nearly flawless performance in St. Paul, Minn., peforming a triple Lutz-triple loop combination. “I love it when things are difficult for me,” said Wagner, in an interview with Ice “Competing on the Grand Prix senior circuit has forced my skating to mature. I’m a senior lady now, and I need to perform like one.”
Before the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Ashley was barely noticed by the heavy glare of media skating circles, mostly giving up the spotlight to defending U.S. champion Kimmie Meissner and world junior champion Caroline Zhang. Ashley defeated Meissner in the free program at the Grand Prix in Paris, and her recent scores, including a personal-best 108.15-point free skate, are in the range of what Meissner and Zhang have earned, the skating analyst reported. 

“At first, I would watch Mao Asada practice and be like a deer in headlights,” Wagner told the skating news site. “But then I had a reality check. I know I have to compete against her and all of the other top skaters.”  
Unlike many of the world’s top skaters, Ashley is not home-schooled, and keeps a full high school schedule with skating practices before and after school. “It’s important for me to maintain that other life,” she told Ice Network.  “I tried home-schooling for half a year, and to be honest, my mother [Melissa] and I drove each other crazy. I missed public school; I wanted to make school friends, as well as skating friends.”

Wagner’s younger brother, Austin, is also a competitive skater. She told the reporter that she inherited self-discipline and a strong work ethic from her father, Eric, a career Army officer. Ashley was born in Heidelberg, Germany, moved with her family to California as an infant and then lived for a number of years in Alaska. “Honestly, there wasn’t much of a choice; I had to start skating,” Wagner said. “I was holed up inside the house all day, and it was either that or ballet.”
When she was six, Ashley’s family relocated to Alexandria, and Wagner began training under Hughes. At age seven, she watched her idol, Tara Lipinski, win the 1998 Olympic title in Nagano, Japan. It was at that point he decided she wanted to compete at the Olympics someday.

“I still have the newspaper from the day of Tara’s win,” Wagner told Ice Network. “I just took another look at her program a few months ago. It’s amazing the performance she put on at the age of 15. I’m already older than she was then.”
As the only U.S. female skater eligible for the World Championships in Gothenberg, Sweden next month (the other two were too young), that puts more of the spotlight on Ashley.

“Of course there is always going to be pressure, but you have to use it to your advantage,” Wagner said. “This is a great opportunity for me. It comes at a great time in my career. I have to shine and get my name out there and show people I’m a true competitor.”