The last 14 days have been a spectacular whirlwind for Ashley Wagner.
Two weeks to the day after claiming her first U.S. championship, the 20-year-old from Alexandria, Va., had the best free skate of her career Saturday night to win the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships for her first international title.
Wagner skated an elegant, clean program to finish with a 128.34-point score that left her with a career-high total of 192.41.
That was enough to edge two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan, who settled for second at 188.62 after touching a hand to the ice while attempting to land a triple lutz and having a triple axel downgraded by judges.
Amelie Lacoste and Cynthia Phaneuf, meanwhile, handed Skate Canada a headache by finishing in a virtual tie after a battle that was supposed to decide who represents the country at the world championships.
Lacoste finished seventh at 147.65 and Phaneuf was right behind at 147.47. That latter score was well below Phaneuf's personal best of 177.54.
Skate Canada did not immediately make any announcement.
As for Wagner, this was the first time she has beaten Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medallist.
"This was a pretty darn good competition for me," Wagner said. "For me to pull out these scores internationally is huge, not only for my career, but also for people's understanding of my level of skating. This is a big confidence boost."
Asada left the event knowing what cost her in the end.
"I'm very happy about succeeding on my triple axel tonight, but I made several other mistakes," Asada said. "I understand my result. I showed my stronger performance at worlds."
The Four Continents was the final major tuneup before the 2012 World Championships on March 26-April 1 in Nice, France.
American Caroline Zhang had a career-best 117.44 points to take the bronze at 176.18. Japan's Kanako Murakami was fourth at 169.32, and American Agnes Zawadzki fifth at 157.23.
Zhang was all smiles after earning a spot on the medal stand.
"This is definitely the best I've done this particular program," Zhang said. "I'm pretty sure this is the last time I'm doing it, so I'm glad I ended it like this. I'm definitely happy to be getting back on the right track again, and hopefully I can just build on this."
Earlier, U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dancing short program, and China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong topped the pairs field after the short program.
Virtue, Moir edged out
The 2011 world champions and 2010 Olympic silver medallists finished their program with a mark of 72.15, edging reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., who had 71.60 points.
Moir feels good about his and Virtue's chances Sunday in the free dance.
"It was a good skate for Tessa and I the way that we attacked it," Moir said. "I made a couple of mistakes, and there are some places where we can make up some points at worlds, but all-in-all, the changes we have done in the last month — and specifically in the weeks since nationals — have really worked well.
"We had a strong skate, so we have to be happy with that, and it sets us up well for tomorrow."
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, both of Waterloo, Ont., were third at 64.23, and two-time U.S. silver medallists Maia and Alex Shibutani were fourth with 63.38.
Fifth place went to 2012 U.S. bronze medallists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who earned 49.93 points for their program.
Alexandra Paul of Midhurst, Ont., and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., are sixth.
Earlier, China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won the pairs short program.
Sui and Han, the two-time and reigning world junior champions, had a score of 66.75 points, more than three points clear of 2012 U.S. Champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin at 63.35.
"Today, we did our best in the short program," Cong said through an interpreter. "It's very amazing and wonderful. We feel so happy, and my partner did very well. Congratulations to the other teams."
Americans Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker were third with 62.42 points.
Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudy Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., are sixth, Jessica Dube of Saint-Cyrille de Wendover, Que., and Sebastien Wolfe of Terrebonne, Que., seventh and Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., are eighth.
"Our goal was to reach 60 points," said Lawrence scored 57.97 with Swiegers. "Nothing was easy today but somehow we made it work in the end."
Dube and Wolfe were the only one of the three Canadian pairs that felt satisfied.
"It felt great we did a really good program," said Wolfe. "We brought it up to the next level."
After winning the Canadian title last month, Duhamel and Radford were hoping to fare better.
"We are a little disappointed," said Radford. "We can't really pin our fingers on why we didn't do as well as we wanted. We had to fight for every element."
Canadian star Patrick Chan won the men's title Friday night.