U.S. Announces Figure Skating Team For Sochi

fromWBUR

This past weekend in Boston, American figure skaters were chosen for the Olympic team. The Americans are not seen as having much of a shot at gold medals, but that didn't dim the competition for a place on the team.

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The U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held in Boston over the weekend. At stake were national titles and tickets to next month's winter Olympics in Russia. Asma Khalid reports from our member station WBUR.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Just 30 seconds into her performance, the two-time national champion, Ashley Wagner, stumbled and fell. The audience gasped. And then she fell again. At the end of her routine, Wagner turned to her mom and mouthed I'm sorry.

ASHLEY WAGNER: I just was really embarrassed.

KHALID: Wagner says the nerves crushed her.

WAGNER: As soon as they called my name, my legs turned to lead. And I'll admit it. I didn't pull through at the National Championships when I felt the pressure.

KHALID: But skating officials believed in her anyway, and named her to the Olympic team. Wagner knows she danced with danger this past weekend, but she doesn't think she'll screw up at the Olympics, because she says there's less pressure for her on the global stage.

WAGNER: Going into the Olympics, it will be a totally different type of pressure because it's icing on top of the cake. I'm at the Olympics, I've made it. I can really just let myself skate instead of having to worry about whether or not I'm going to literally watch my dreams fall apart.

KHALID: Typically, whoever wins gold, silver and bronze at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships goes on to compete in the Olympics. But because Wagner was added, the bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu lost her chance. It's a controversial decision, one that's only been made a handful of times before, like when Nancy Kerrigan was whacked in the knee before the 1994 Olympics.

But in the past the exceptions were for injuries, not because the golden girl botched her performance. The president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, Pat St. Peter, defended the decision. She says the championships are not an Olympic trial. Instead, ice skating looks at an athlete's overall body of work during the last year.

PAT ST. PETER: So if you look at Ashley Wagner's record and performance, she's got the top credentials of any of our female athletes.

KHALID: The other two ladies chosen were 15 year old Polina Edmunds and the skater with the perfect Olympic name, Gracie Gold. But none of these women are favorites to medal in Sochi, according to experts like E.M. Swift - the former Olympic Sports Illustrated writer.

E.M. SWIFT: Our top skaters are still a little bit, to my eye, unpolished, not as refined as the real great champions of yesteryear.

KHALID: The days of Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan are long gone. At the last Olympics, for the first time since 1964, no American women medaled. As the popular image of the ice princess has melted, ice dancing has somehow developed into American's best bet for gold. Meryl Davis and Charlie White from Michigan are the reigning World Champions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SCHEHERAZADE")

KHALID: They scored a perfect over the weekend as they performed to "Scheherazade" and captured their 6th national title. No American team has ever won an Olympic gold medal in ice dancing. Still, White is optimistic.

CHARLIE WHITE: Obviously we're going into these games with very high expectations. We feel like we've put ourselves in a really great position to come home with the gold medal.

KHALID: And if they do slip up, there is one more hope for a medal - the new team figure skating event. It's debuting at the Sochi games. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid.

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