BOSTON – The names on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team were still supposed to be a secret, so Ashley Wagner slipped under the stands to cry.
Hours after a performance she described as a “tearful little wimp out on the ice,” the two-time national champion was picked to go to the Sochi Games.
She finished a distant fourth at the U.S. Championships on Saturday night, and only three American women make the Olympics. But this event isn’t the only criteria U.S. Figure Skating takes into account.
“If you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she’s got the top credentials of any of our female athletes,” said the organization’s president, Patricia St. Peter.
And so the third-place finisher, Mirai Nagasu, was passed over Sunday. Fifteen-year-old Polina Edmunds, who was second, was selected even though she has never competed in an international senior event.
Nagasu has some pretty impressive credentials herself — she was fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Games as a 16-year-old. But U.S. Figure Skating’s selection guidelines consider only the past year, and Nagasu had mostly struggled until a resurgent performance at nationals.
Silent all day, Nagasu appeared as scheduled for her performance in the Sunday night exhibition that always follows major events. Her eyes welled up as she took her spot on the ice, and the crowd rose to its feet as she choked back the sobs.
After her program, she wiped away more tears as she skated off to another standing ovation.
Nagasu declined to speak to reporters afterward but later released a statement.
“I’m disappointed in the decision. Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made,” she said.
U.S. Figure Skating does take into account the technical difficulty of skaters’ programs, and that might have been what clinched the preternaturally poised Edmunds’ spot on the team.
“Even though it is my senior debut, I think I am senior level, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s a debut or not,” she said.
The one no-brainer was Gracie Gold, who won her first U.S. title Saturday in a runaway.
Wagner finished fifth at the world championships and won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, the next most important events in the selection criteria after this year’s nationals.
“I’m happy that my federation was able to see beyond one bad skate,” she said through tears once the announcement became official.
Abbott takes men’s title
Jeremy Abbott was reminding himself to feel his legs, the pressure of the moment weighing down on him.
Then he heard the chants from the crowd: “5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . .” Abbott hurried to the center of the ice, and when his music started just before the countdown clock expired, he thought, “Thank God I’m not disqualified.”
Better than that: He’s a four-time U.S. figure skating champion and a repeat Olympian.
Abbott, 28, steeled himself through the nerves in his free skate Sunday to win at his final nationals. Teenager Jason Brown was second, earning the Americans’ second spot in Sochi.
For a skater who has turned in some brilliant performances at this event, Abbott’s program Sunday was far from his best — but more than enough.
“It wasn’t a perfect skate, but, God, I enjoyed every moment of it,” he said.
Defending champion Max Aaron was third. The top-two finishers didn’t automatically qualify for the Olympics, but U.S. Figure Skating officials stuck with the standings in picking the team later Sunday.
Skating last, Abbott had a cushion of nearly 13 points on Aaron after the short program, and once he landed a quadruple toe loop to open the free skate, the Olympic berth was in his grasp.
Since winning his last U.S. title two years ago, Abbott had struggled as he overhauled his training regimen. But a superb short program Friday put him back on top in his last season before retiring.
“Because the short program was so magical, I knew that he was going to have a little bit of a struggle,” said his coach, Yuka Sato. “But I thought he managed himself so well.”