At worlds, Ashley Wagner focused on next year's Olympics

HELSINKI, Finland -- Because they compete in a subjectively judged sport, figure skaters adopt a mantra of keeping their focus on what they can do rather than pay significant attention to what their competitors are doing.

Even as she says that, though, Ashley Wagner will carry a broader view at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, which will open Wednesday morning in Helsinki, Finland, with the ladies short program.

"This competition, my main goal is to see how I chalk up against these girls," Wagner said after finishing a strong practice during which she rattled off the planned jumps in her short program with power and sure-footedness.

"My focus is really next year (the Olympics), so this is just seeing what's going to happen," she continued. "This competition is kind of trying to gauge how far I have to go next year."

Wagner, the reigning world silver medalist, has not seen the other top skaters together this season because she did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

But the three-time U.S. champion already has seen enough of Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva to know the reigning world champion is in a league of her own when she skates without a major error.

"As much as I love the sport of figure skating, I do not watch figure skating when I am not figure skating," Wagner said with a grin. "With Evgenia, I know exactly what she is doing, and if there is anybody who needs to be chased, it's Evgenia."

Medvedeva has won nine straight competitions over the past two seasons: two European titles, two national titles, two Grand Prix Finals, two Grand Prix events and worlds. This season, she has racked up world-record scores for the short program, free skate and overall total.

"I don't like to say this, because I don't enter a competition to not win," Wagner said. "But at the same time, if she goes out and puts out a solid program, I think right now she is very far ahead of the field technically.

"She has set the bar so high. I respect her so much for what she has accomplished. Beyond that, I can only worry about what I am capable of."

Last season, Wagner's effort at the world championships was enough to beat everyone but Medvedeva, who won by 8.47 points. Despite falling short of the top position, Wagner became the first U.S. woman to win a world medal since 2006, when Kimmie Meissner (gold) and Sasha Cohen (bronze) both reached the podium in Calgary.

"The world silver was definitely a taste of what I am capable of," Wagner said. "I know every competition is a different recipe -- the people that are there, how they are skating, the judges, how I am skating that particular day."

Wagner, 25, is also trying to help her U.S. singles teammates, Karen Chen, 17, and Mariah Bell, 20, leave their first senior worlds with a good taste, even with the pressure of trying to earn three spots for next year's Olympics.

To do that, the top two U.S. skaters in Finland must have finishes that add up to 13 or fewer.

"It's in our mind because it's very important," Bell said. "But it doesn't change what I would do. If I knew for certain we were getting three spots, I wouldn't change anything."

For Wagner, runner-up to Chen at this year's U.S. championships, the support goes even to playing factotum. After practice Tuesday, when both Chen and Bell struggled through falls, Wagner offered to hold Chen's bag and held Bell's credential as they did interviews in the mixed zone.

"She has definitely got the leader role here," Bell said. "It's really cool to have someone who is so experienced."

Wagner's advice?

"Stay calm," Bell said.

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)