Road To The Olympic Games

Ashley Wagner left off U.S. Olympic figure skating team

Three-time U.S. champ Ashley Wagner, who complained vigorously about the marks after the free skate on Friday at the national championships, will not be included on the roster for the Olympics in Pyeongchang.

3-time American champ complains about free skate marks at Friday's nationals

Ashley Wagner, seen performing during the women's free skate at the U.S. national championships in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, was not included on the roster announced Saturday for the Winter Olympics, but was chosen as the first alternate. (Tony Avelar/Associated Press)

Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen, the top three finishers at the national championships, were selected Saturday to the United States team for the Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Three-time U.S. champ Ashley Wagner, who complained vigorously about the marks after the free skate, was not included. Four years ago, Wagner also finished fourth but was placed on the team ahead of Nagasu. Wagner wound up with a bronze medal in the team event.

"I really took time to remodel myself, because I didn't want to feel that regret," Nagasu said during the announcement on NBC's "Today" show. "This has been about my journey and my goal to get here. To accomplish it last night has been a dream come true."

The 19-year-old Tennell and Chen, 18, the 2017 U.S. winner, made their first Olympics. Nagasu, now 24, was fourth at the 2010 Games.

Alternates are Wagner (first alternate), Mariah Bell (second alternate) and Angela Wang (third alternate). Only Wagner has been to an Olympics among those three.

U.S. Figure Skating uses a committee to decide the squad, and it went with Friday night's results. Past performances and a variety of other data are included in the decision making.

The remainder of the team — three men, three ice dance couples and one pair — is scheduled to be announced Sunday.

Rising star Tennell's near-perfect free skate earned her first national crown. Tennell, a long shot entering the season, was spotless in the short program two days ago, then as the final skater in the long program she didn't miss a trick under tremendous pressure. Her top competitors, Nagasu and Chen, already had put down superb routines.

"I just had to keep calm and focus on what I knew I could do," Tennell said. "There's the initial butterflies, but I kind of start to lose myself and keep going.

"I don't think it's sunk in quite yet. I'm still kind of shocked. It's indescribable to me."

Nagasu, U.S. champ 10 years ago and a 2010 Olympian, capped a sensationally sweet comeback with a flowing performance to finish second, assuring a spot in next month's Olympics — a berth she was denied in 2014 by the selection committee. That position for Sochi was given to Wagner, who had a better overall record.

Chen, the defending champion, was third Friday night.

After overpowering the entry and two-footing the triple axel that no other American woman tries, Nagasu hit six triple jumps, including a loop in the final seconds of a stirring program. She was so moved by her performance that she broke out in tears and covered her face, trying to gain control of the emotions that often had betrayed her in critical moments.

She was still crying in, appropriately, the kiss and cry area when the marks showed Nagasu she had shattered her personal best by nearly 20 points with a 213.84.

Chen's big season last year had not translated into achievement this campaign. She put those struggles to an icy death with a superb showing that had one flaw toward the end. She, too, was overcome by tears for a 198.59 score.

Tennell made it a trio of tears with her career best of 219.51. Tennell announced herself as an Olympic team threat with a third place at Skate America. Hardly ice shattering, but then she ratcheted up everything for nationals.

Wagner had the crowd going for most of her energetic routine, but a flawed lutz as her final jump was costly. She responded to the fans with a deep bow when she finished, yet was shaking her head "no" when her marks were posted.

Hours later, after she verbally campaigned to be placed on the Olympic team again, Wagner was left off.

Nathan Chen stands apart 

Nathan Chen dazzled once again with his remarkable athleticism to pull off breathtaking quadruple jumps, skating the final routine to a commanding night.

Chen, 18, all but secured his spot for next month's Olympics.

With improved poise and style, not to mention his new Vera Wang costumes, Chen completed five quads to beat second-place Ross Miner with a total score of 315.23 — a startling 40.72-point lead that set him completely apart.

And Chen is considered the Americans' best medal hopeful if he is chosen for the team. Now, the U.S. Figure Skating selection committee will consider body of work to decide on the three skaters to represent next month in South Korea.

Vincent Zhou, another prodigious jumper, was third.

Knierims in prime position

U.S. champions again after all the terrifying health challenges of recent years, the husband-wife Knierims celebrated with those kid-sized, single servings of chocolate milk. Tiny pop-in straw and everything.

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim could exhale at last.

Just earlier, she leaned forward nervously awaiting the score, hands clasped. She knew full well the previous pair had performed beautifully. Her own program with husband Chris featured a few minor mistakes.

It also had a beautiful quadruple twist high above the ice with a slight flaw, yet they also were the only ones to even attempt the high-difficulty element in Saturday's free skate.

In a calming and reassuring gesture, her husband reached his right arm around her and rested his chin on Alexa's left shoulder. Then came just what they had so strived for while fighting back from serious health challenges: a national championship.

The couple captured a second title three years after their first at the U.S. Figure Skating championships, likely securing their Olympic berth for the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.

"I'm in disbelief," the 26-year-old Alexa said, fighting back the tears. "I was not feeling confident we would come out on top."

The pair's challenging comeback journey from injuries and Alexa's rare and debilitating life-threatening condition that required multiple abdominal surgeries has no question been a tough one. So to triumph in an Olympic year was particularly satisfying.

Now, they await official word to arrange for their tickets to Korea.​

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