The roars from the crowd at TD Garden were deafening, and Ashley Wagner, appropriately the closer of the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, still had a triple lutz left to complete. And when she finally landed that lutz, she became the first American woman in ten years to win a medal at a World Championships. Wagner took silver behind a flawless world record skate from Evgenia Medvedeva in yet another day of incredible skating.
Medvedeva wins in debut
With her win, Medvedeva became the first singles skaters to ever win a World title the year immediately after winning the Junior World title. Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov are the only other skaters to achieve this back-to-back. And after an unsteady triple flip in the short program left her in third, she roared back with a clean free skate that overtook Yuna Kim's world record set six years ago at the Olympics.
And while talking about world records is inevitably making comparisons, it is important to note that, across all disciplines, grades of execution and component scores have loosened up during the past few years. And that makes the staying power of Kim's world record in Vancouver all the more impressive.
But yesterday was Medvedeva's time to shine. After a dominant season, she turned in the free skate of her life to become the fourth Russian woman to win a World title. Her win, and the fact that defending champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva failed to make it onto the World team, extends the streak of no back-to-back champions. The last time a female skater won a consecutive World title was in 2001, when Michelle Kwan won two in a row.
Wagner's transformation continues
Earlier this season, I wrote about how Wagner seems to know no ceiling. It's somewhat mind-boggling to think how she continues to work and improve when you think that she's already maxed out. Worlds was yet another instance of that.
It's easy to forget that she made her Worlds debut eight years ago, when she finished 16th at 16. It took her four more years to get back to Worlds again, and then four more years to get on the podium after a string of close calls that were generally the result of so-so short programs.
In Boston last night, she closed the show, the entire competition, the biggest figure skating competition next to the Olympics, in front of a sold-out home crowd that knew the recent history of American ladies skating and wanted back on the podium. Even last year, she could very well have folded under the enormity of the occasion. Instead, she embraced it, channeling the support from the crowd into a performance for the ages. And she won the silver not as the result of a litany of subpar performances - she did it in likely the most competitive ladies field in the history of the World Championships, and after four skaters in the final group had already delivered clean or near-clean programs.
And yet she wasn't perfect. She got an underrotation call on her flip-toe, which, upon replay after replay, I find questionable at best. And she stepped out of her second flip, which took off tilted from an errant pick-in and was definitely underrotated. But her components, absolutely the strongest of this free skate event, gave her the counterbalance she needed to storm the podium. A clean skate would have kept her on pace with Medvedeva, likely in the 146-148 range to Medvedeva's 150.
Does Ashley Wagner, now approaching 25 but in the best technical and components shape of her career, have another notch to climb during these next couple of seasons? Conventional wisdom says no, but based on what we've seen during the past four years, don't be surprised if it happens.
But you know what? That drought? Thank goodness it's over.