BOSTON -- It turned out Ashley Wagner wasn't over it.
At least not yet.
The coaching changes. The move to Orange County, Calif., surely she had put enough distance between herself and just missing making the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. Yet just seconds into Wagner's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on Thursday night it was almost like she checked her rearview mirror and there they were again, right on her tail.
The ghosts of Spokane.
"I think I had some demons to overcome," Wagner said.
Distracted by a flashback to her 2010 disappointment, Wagner, the Orange County-based, two-time defending U.S. champion, stumbled early in a performance that once again left her dream of an Olympic medal in danger of being swallowed by another five-ring nightmare.
Wagner finished fourth in Thursday's short program, trailing Mirai Nagasu, who edged Wagner for the final spot on the 2010 Olympic team, by less than a point heading into Saturday's free skate.
"Going into the long program I feel I'm, I'm exactly where I want to be," Wagner said. "I really like being the fighter, going after the top prize, not being the one who has to try and fend everyone off. When I won my first national title I was third after the short and I fought so I'm ready to fight."
And Wagner will indeed have a fight on her hands for spot on the U.S. roster for Sochi.
Gracie Gold, 18, the rising star training under legendary coach Frank Carroll, delivered the performance of her career posting a 72.12 score and taking a commanding lead into Saturday. In second place was the surprise of the night, Polina Edmunds, 15, from San Jose, who pulled down a 66.75 mark.
"The future of skating in America," Carroll said of Edmunds. "I guarantee you."
Edmunds is followed by Nagasu at 65.44 and Wagner at 64.71. Irvine's Leah Keiser is eighth at 57.41 with Courtney Hicks of Chino Hills 16th at 51.89. Caroline Zhang, the 2007 World Junior champion from Brea, is 19th at 47.87.
Four years ago Nagasu edged Wagner for the second and final spot on the U.S. Olympic team at the U.S. Championships in Spokane when Wagner was unable to overcome a catastrophic error in the short program. The disappointment left Wagner, by her own admission, in a funk she thought she had finally shaken by shifting her training base from the East Coast to Orange County before the 2012 season. The move resulted in Wagner becoming the first woman to win back-to-back U.S. titles since Michelle Kwan in 2005.
But as Wagner approached her opening jump sequence, a triple flip/triple toeloop combination just seconds into the program, the nightmare of Spokane flashed back at her.
"Just definitely thinking about the short program in 2010 going into the triple flip/triple toe," Wagner admitted.
Uneasy after the triple flip, Wagner opted for a double toe which she still stepped out of.
"So I decided to play it safe rather than be sorry," Wagner said. "I could have gone for the triple after the flip but knew it wouldn't be a good one and it was risky so I decided to just leave it at that. I wasn't just used to doing double toes at the end of a jump. So it kind of ended up being crummy. But I got it done."
Nagasu has also had her own ups and downs since 2010 when she also finished fourth in the Olympics. But she struggled to build on her Vancouver performance, dropping to third at the 2011 U.S. Championships and then slipping to seventh at the last two nationals and downward spiral fueled by self-doubt and frustration.
"If she wasn't perfect, she felt like she was worthless," said Carroll, who coached Nagasu in 2010. "It was very difficult for her to acknowledge it was OK not to be perfect all the time."
Nagasu said she was pleased with her performance Thursday night.
"The past is the past and I feel as people we all mature and change," Nagasu said. "I'm hoping to just take that experience and use it to my advantage because I'm not a rookie anymore. The Olympics are a part of me and it was a great experience but a lot of things have happened and I've only matured from my struggles. I'm going into the long program."
There is one other difference for Wagner and Nagasu -- and the rest of the field -- from four years ago. Unlike in Spokane, the U.S. has three women's spots for Sochi.
For Wagner it will take landing one of those three spots to finally exorcise the ghosts of Spokane.
"I think as soon as I put out the performances I need to get onto that spot in Sochi," she said, "2010 will no longer be relevant."
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