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An honest look at figure skating’s latest scandal

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Figure Skating has always been a center for controversy as so many aspects of the sport seem subjective, political and at times downright unfair. Masked by rules, guidelines and a scoring system that keeps the specifics about the sport somewhat obscure to the average viewer, it is no wonder that figure skating attracts attention when injustice seems to rear its ugly head in the sport yet again.

The controversy of who made the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team for the ladies has now been put in the limelight. An outrage has erupted after Ashley Wagner, who came in fourth at the U.S. Championships, was named to the Olympic Team despite her poor showing at nationals, seemingly ousting the third place finisher, Mirai Nagasu. So was Mirai snubbed? Is there a conspiracy here or at least foul play? Let’s take a look at some the facts.

It was claimed that USFS (United States Figure Skating) made their decision based on “the body of work” from each skater, so let’s look at each of the skater’s ‘body of work’, excluding Gracie Gold since she obviously made the team fair and square after winning the U.S. Championships. Below are the results of Mirai Nagasu, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds, which displays the ISU results from each skater over the past several years.

Mirai Nagasu
2007/2008 3rd junior world champion
1st at U.S. Championships - 1st nationals as a senior
2008/2009 5th at U.S. Championships
2009/2010 2nd at U.S. Championships
4th at Olympics
7th at World Championships
2010/2011 3rd at Four Continents
3rd at U.S. Championships
5th at Skate Canada - Grand Prix
2nd Cup of China - Grand Prix
2011/2012 7th at U.S. Championships
2012 3rd at Finlandia Trophy
2012 4th Cup of China - Grand Prix
2012 3rd NHK - Grand Prix
2012/2013 7th at U.S. Championships
2013 4th at Finlandia
2013 8th at NHK - Grand Prix
2013 3rd Rostelecom Cup 2013 Moscow - Grand Prix
2014 3rd at U.S. Championships

Best total score = 190.15 at the 2010 Olympic Games

Ashley Wagner
2006/2007 3rd junior U.S. Championships
3rd junior worlds
2007/2008 3rd U.S. Championships
8th at Four Continents
16th World Championships
2008/2009 3rd at world juniors
4th at U.S. Championships
2009/2010 3rd at U.S. Championships
2010/2011 6th at U.S. Championships
2011/2012 1st at U.S. Championships
1st at Four Continents
4th at Worlds
2012 3rd ISU World Team Trophy
1st at Trophee Bompard - Grand Prix
2nd Grand Prix Final
2012/2013 1st at U.S. Championships
5th at World Championships
2nd ISU World Team Trophy
2nd at Skate America - Grand Prix
1st at Trophee Bompard - Grand Prix
3rd at the Grand Prix Final

Best total score = 194.37 Trophee Bompard November 2013

Polina Edmunds
2010/2011 7th at junior nationals
2011/2012 6th at junior nationals
2012/2013 1st at junior nationals
2013 1st junior Gardena Spring Trophy
2013 1st junior Grand Prix Mexico Cup
2013 1st junior junior Grand Prix Minsk
2013 4th at the junior Grand Prix Final

Best total score = 171.21 Junior Grand Prix Mexico 2013

The real question--why Edmunds and not Nagasu?

Many are proclaiming that Nagasu should have made the team in place of Ashley Wagner, but here are a few things to keep in mind: 1. The U.S. Championships do not serve as the Olympic trials, therefore they are not legally bound to put the top skaters on the Olympic Team. 2. The selection committee reviews not just one event (i.e. U.S. nationals), they review the full ‘body of work’ from each skater. 3. The committee’s goal is to place on the Olympic Team those skaters they think would have the best chance to medal at the Olympic Games.

With this in mind, including the scores listed above, you can clearly see the argument for Ashley Wagner being on the Olympic Team. Here’s why: 1. She has the highest international score of any of the ladies and this score was just made back in November of 2013, which means it’s recent. 2. If Ashley and Gracie had not skated so well at the 2013 World Championships, then there would only be two spots on the Olympic Team instead of three. It was because of Ashley’s strong showing at world’s that three ladies can even make it to Sochi. 3. Finally look at her track record. It is not perfect, but it is still stronger than the other two ladies, hands down.

When viewers see the U.S. Championships, they see Ashley Wagner falling in her free skate, and yet making the Olympic Team, but that is only one chapter of the story. Even she admittedly called her free skate “embarrassing.” She was not great by any means at nationals, but it is not one event that is being looked at, it is her international history the past two years that shows that she is a solid competitor.

When you look at Mirai Nagasu’s results the past few years, her ups and downs are obvious, even from this past season. She placed eighth at NHK in November 2013 and then came back later on in the month and won the bronze at Rostelecom Cup. There are definitely some consistency issues. The thing about Mirai is that her strongest season was really back in 2010, yet she is great under pressure and she does have experience at the Olympic Games, where she just missed the podium in 2010, placing fourth. It is unfortunate that she did not have a coach at the U.S. Championships to advocate for her as she does have a strong case.

Then there’s Polina Edmunds, and it’s surprising that more outcry has not come about this youngster making the team. This was her first senior event. She has never even competed at an international senior event before. Her ‘body of work’ is all at the junior level. How is that even a ‘body of work’ when there’s no ‘body’ to even review? She has clearly had a strong season, you cannot deny that, but she is inexperienced.

Polina’s highest junior international score was 171.21, compare that up against Yuna Kim’s 228.56 at the Olympic Games and they are not even in the same playing field. At least Nagasu has scored a 190.15 against Yuna Kim at the 2010 Olympic Games, revealing that she is a much stronger contender.

So why was Polina Edmunds named to the team instead of Mirai Nagasu? That’s where the controversy should lie.

Why was Mirai not named to the World Team?

After denying Mirai the Olympic Team, why was she not at least named to the World Team? Max Aaron, who was the 2013 U.S. Champion, who came in third in the men’s event was not named to the Olympic Team, but he at least got a spot on the world team. The same occurred for Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, they came in third, just missing a spot on the Olympic Team and were at least named to the World Team. But not Mirai. So, with both the men and the pairs, the third place finishers will be going to Worlds but not for the ladies, why is that?

Instead, for the ladies, they will be sending Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds, yet Mirai Nagasu will be going to Four Continents instead. How is it that she was passed up for yet another team? It would be so interesting to hear the reasoning behind that decision. It seems like they are trying to send a message to her that her time is up.

Was the selection process for the Olympic Team sketchy?

It was reported that, “Two people with knowledge of the selection process told USA TODAY Sports that Wagner will be on the Olympic team, ‘even if she's 10th.’” So was the selection process already somewhat complete before the skater’s even hit the ice at the U.S. Championships?

It was reported that the selection process guidelines were somewhat loose in order to make adjustments to the team as they saw fit. So why even throw the U.S. Championships out there if this event does not weigh as heavily as previously claimed?

In times past, the top skaters from the U.S. Championships were named to the Olympic Team and exceptions were only made primarily due to injury. Like in the case of Nancy Kerrigan. If the rules have changed, then why haven’t they just simply stated as much instead of allowing everyone to think that the U.S. Championships is the main event evaluated to determine the Olympic Team?

As Philip Hersh from the Chicago Tribune stated about the selection process, “Was there a formal vote? If so, what was the tally? We apparently will never know, as USFS officials were as vague about such procedures as they were in creating selection rules that allowed body of work over the past year to carry a significant but nonspecific amount of weight.”

The lack of clarity and ambiguity of this whole process just comes across as sketchy. There must be a better due process to ensure that skaters do not get seemingly snubbed.

The outrage continues

When you watch a tearful Mirai Nagasu take to the ice at the U.S. Championship Gala, it becomes desirable to point a finger and accuse someone or an organization for wrong doing as it simply seems unjust. So many have taken up Mirai’s cause and a petition with almost 5,000 signatures has been created encouraging the USFS to send Nagasu to the Olympics. It is important that the outcry be heard, though its unlikely that it will bring about any real change.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important not to blame the skaters themselves. They have little to no power when it comes to these types of politics. All that is left is to support those who did not make the team and not take it out on the skaters who are on the team. Ashley Wagner has chosen to stay off social media due to the increased slander and accusations made against her. These athletes are people too and they need the support of their nation, whether they made it on the Olympic Team or only to Four Continents.

The suspicions and debate will most likely continue as this type of decision will not be soon forgotten as there are too many questions without answers. With a lack of transparency too much room is left for assumption and makes for a bitter audience and bitter athletes. At the end of they day, figure skating needs another win, not another scandal.

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