The best thing to be said about the U.S. women’s performances at the Grand Prix Final is Ashley Wagner won a silver medal, just the second for a U.S. woman at the event since 2003.
And Wagner did it by living up to that old axiom, “No guts, no glory.”
However, the state of women’s figure skating worldwide is so riddled with inconsistency that Wagner earned the medal despite two hard falls while finishing fourth in Saturday’s free skate at the 2014 Olympic rink in Sochi, Russia.
That was where the guts came in.
Two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan, the easy (14.87-point margin) and absolutely deserving winner, took the third Grand Prix Final gold of her career with a free skate that had just three clean triple jumps. Generous free skate judges gave her a total score of 196.80, best in the world this season.
Her compatriot, Akiko Suzuki, fell twice in the free skate and wound finished less than a point behind Wagner overall.
Christina Gao of the United States, who made the six-skater final as first alternate because of an injury withdrawal, was dead last in both programs – almost 19 points from fifth place. She fell once in the free skate.
U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their fourth straight Grand Prix Final title. They took both the short and free dances to beat Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the reigning Olympic champions, by 3.56 points.
But what happened in Sochi seemed of less consequence than what reigning Olympic champion Kim Yuna of South Korea accomplished in Saturday’s short program at her comeback competition in Dortmund, Germany.
Kim, who had not competed since the 2011 worlds, rolled up 72.27 points, fourth highest score ever – topped only by three she had posted in 2009 and 2010, with a best of 78.50 from the Olympics. She reacted with little emotion (video) after a clean program that included a triple lutz - triple toe loop combination.
Wagner had been the leading qualifier for the final after winning both her Grand Prix events this fall, one with the season's previous world-leading score (190.63). She had a personal best score while placing second to Asada by a whisker in Friday’s short program.
“It has been a long season, and I knew a down competition was going to happen sooner or later,” she said.
She went down hard on her rump on the second planned triple jump of her program, a salchow.
But the reigning U.S. champion bounced right up and nailed three more triple jumps (one with a wrong takeoff edge) before falling heavily on her stomach and left hip on the double axel that followed a triple loop.
“When I fall, I fall hard,” Wagner said.
Once again, despite wincing, she barely missed a beat, stayed in the character of her program (Delilah, from Camille Saint-Saens opera, “Samson and Delilah”) and hit a rock-solid triple flip near the end of the four-minute skate.
“I’m really proud of myself (that) I was able to pull myself together after a fall like that,” Wagner said. “Going into the next jump, you’re pretty much terrified that you’re going to do it again.
“I knew I could either give the competition away at that point or continue to fight.”
Wagner said she expected to be sore the next few days, which include more than 24 hours of travel back to Los Angeles. Wagner said the team doctor told her she had a hip pointer.
“I don’t know what that is, but I can tell you it hurts,” Wagner said.
(A hip pointer is a bruise of the hip bones that often implicates stomach muscles.)
“I’ll be fine by nationals (the end of January),” Wagner insisted.
Wagner withdrew from Sunday's exhibition because of what an International Skating Union release called injuries to her left hip and right knee. U.S. Figure Skating spokesperson Renee Felton said the knee also was bruised.
This was Wagner’s second appearance at a Grand Prix final, having finished 4th in 2009. Alissa Czisny, the 2010 winner, had been the only other U.S. woman to make the podium since Sasha Cohen took second in 2003.
“Looking at everything I have accomplished this season, this is a bonus,” Wagner said.
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