The selection process for the U.S. Olympic Women’s Figure Skating team has traditionally been straightforward: The top three finishers at the national championships have been named to the U.S. team.
This year was a little different.
In a significant deviation from the precedent, after last weekend’s figure skating championships at TD Garden, officials selected fourth-place finisher Ashley Wagner over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu, despite the fact that Nagasu was the only skater not to fall or make an error during her routine, according to the New York Times. Nagasu was named as an alternate for the Sochi games.
Wagner fell twice during a routine she called “embarrassing,” yet she was selected to represent the United States on the biggest sports stage of all. The last four times the top national championship finishers didn’t skate in the Olympics was because of injury, but the rules allow the U.S. Figure Skating Association to base its final decision on a skater’s “body of work” from the past year. That body of work carries a significant but nonspecific amount of weight, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I didn’t really show up when the world was watching,” Wagner said. “Skating needs someone who will show up when the world is watching. I was terrified that I was going to have something to regret. I’m so incredibly honored to be named to this team. I am grateful that my federation was able to look beyond one really bad performance and see that athlete that I’m capable of being.”
In the end, it’s possible the decision came down to reputation and marketability. The skating association and NBC have been marketing Wagner heavily ahead of the 2014 games, according to the New York Times.
“With Lindsey Vonn out of the skiing competition with an injury, an absent Wagner would have left the United States — and the network — without another visible star and medal hopeful,” Jere Longman wrote.