The top three finishers at the national figure skating championships have always been, barring injury, the skaters named to the US Olympic team. But not this year.
Mirai Nagasu, a 20-year-old skater who finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, took third place at the nationals competition this weekend. The only top finisher with Olympic experience, she was also the only figure skater not to fall or make a major error.
But when the American women's team was announced Sunday, 22-year-old Ashley Wagner, who placed fourth, took the third Olympic spot. Nagasu was named as an alternate.
The switch seems unprecedented — the last four times that national championship finishers haven't skated at the Olympics have all been due to injuries — for example, Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. But the rules allow the US Figure Skating Association to judge the skater's "body of work" over the past year, which can carry an unspecified weight in the final team selection.
Nagasu, skating without a coach, was coming back from an inconsistent year on the competition circuit. And although Wagner fell multiple times and had a less difficult program, her brand has been a major part of the Olympics marketing plan.
Wagner has also been heavily promoted by the skating association and NBC, which will broadcast the Sochi Games. 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.
[image via AP]