Wagner deserved Olympic spot over Nagasu

OLYMPIC DREAMS — Mirai Nagasu, who placed fourth in the Vancouver Olympics, at the World Figure Skating Championships in Turin, Italy, on March 26, 2010.  Ashley Wagner took second place at Skate America in Detroit on Oct. 20, 2013. Kyodo file photo

OLYMPIC DREAMS — Mirai Nagasu, who placed fourth in the Vancouver Olympics, at the World Figure Skating Championships in Turin, Italy, on March 26, 2010. Ashley Wagner took second place at Skate America in Detroit on Oct. 20, 2013.
Kyodo file photo

Controversy recently erupted when on Jan. 12 U.S. Figure Skating gave the last spot on its three-member women’s Olympic team to Ashley Wagner — who fell twice at the national championships in Boston — over Mirai Nagasu, who finished in third place at nationals with Wagner in fourth.

It was the first time the USFS has bumped someone ahead in a non-injury situation.

Nagasu, a Japanese American, was a member of the 2010 Olympic team which Wagner narrowly missed being a part of. Several reports and conspiracy theories in the wake of the decision incited unfair talk of racism and favoritism.

In reality, the committee takes into account a skater’s performance over the past year, not just their placing at nationals. The system is designed to field a team that gives the team the best chance of winning medals.

Since the Vancouver Games, where the U.S. failed to medal in the ladies singles competition for the first time since 1964, Nagasu hasn’t come close to matching Wagner’s resume.

Nagasu’s only major medals of note since the 2010 Olympics are third place finishes in 2011 at the Four Continents Championships and U.S. National Championships, and of course third at the recent 2014 nationals. That’s it, three bronze medals.

But in that same time frame Wagner has two national titles, a first place at the 2012 Four Continents Championships and second and third place finishes at the Grand Prix Final, an event that Nagasu has never finished in the top three. Wagner totals three golds, a silver and bronze, plus a fifth place finish at the 2013 World Championships.

I guess just looking at this whole thing as a job application, which it basically is, there’s no way Nagasu gets the spot. So despite a bad skate at nationals, Wagner’s recent body of work and contributions earned her the right to join Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds in Sochi, not her blue eyes and blond hair as implied.

“If you look at Ashley Wagner’s record and performance, she has the top credentials of any of our female skaters,” USFS President Patricia St. Peter told the media. “We don’t use a single competition as the sole measurement for who should participate in the Olympic Winter Games.”

People may not like the method the committee uses, but the same tactics are applied across team sports. You pick the personnel that give the team the best chance of winning and an athlete’s pedigree will often supersede a bad game or performance.

Wagner has the better record on the ice and that’s why she’s going to the Olympics instead of Nagasu. Race isn’t a factor.

The USFS addressed the recent uproar in a statement that said in part, “U.S. Figure Skating takes very seriously any implied reference that there was discrimination in the selection of the 2014 Olympic figure skating team. We challenge any such implication, particularly given the fact that more than 25 percent of our Olympic team members are Asian American.”

It should be noted that ice-dancing siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani — the 2011 World bronze medalists — along with pairs skater Felicia Zhang were selected to the Olympic team.

The figure skating competition begins on Feb. 7.

Drew Morita, a Yonsei from Kaua‘i, writes from San Francisco. Follow him @drewmorita or e-mail him at drew_morita@yahoo.com. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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