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Sochi Olympics: U.S. figure skaters intent on seizing the moment
First Published Jan 07 2014 11:06 am • Last Updated Jan 07 2014 11:19 pm

Boston • Go out and get it.

That’s the mindset and mantra for competitors at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships this week. Their objectives: grabbing a spot on the Sochi Olympic team.

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There are three slots available in women’s and ice dance, two in men’s and in pairs. So let the free-for-all begin.

"In 2010, I was 17 or 18 and thought, ‘Yeah, the Olympics, that might happen,’" two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner said. "Now, I’m set on making it reality. I’ve taken all the thoughtful steps to get there.

"My approach for nationals is that, while no doubt this is a huge event, if you make it a huge event in your mind, it becomes unbearable. So just make it another day at the rink and it’s cool. And go for it."

Wagner is, by far, the best American bet for an individual medal in Sochi. By finishing fifth at the worlds last year and Gracie Gold getting sixth, they secured the maximum three spots for the Olympics.

The beneficiaries of that could well be Gold and Agnes Zawadzki, the silver and bronze medalists at the 2013 nationals. They, too, are in attack mode.

"It’s a little nerve-racking, but mostly it’s exciting," the 18-year-old Gold says of her first time through the Olympic qualifying cauldron. "It’s big. I’m on a mission.

"In 2011, I missed nationals, and then I was thinking maybe the 2018 Olympics. Then I won juniors at nationals and was second last year (in seniors). I refocused. I’m giving it everything I have. No holding back."

Zawadzki agrees, stressing the importance of not getting stressed out mentally while putting everything she has into her performances in Boston — and, hopefully, in Sochi.

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"I really think our sport is more mental than physical," she said. "You build that pattern of doing it right in your programs in practice, and you have to convince yourself that you’ve done it so many times before, you can do it in competition. That’s when the doubts can come in and you have to remove them and just go for it because you know you can do it."

What no U.S. woman has done is medal at the Olympics or worlds since 2006. But before starring on the world stage, the Americans must make the podium at nationals.

With the exception of ice dance, where world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are Olympic favorites, the medals chase in Sochi is something of a long shot for American skaters. According to Adam Rippon, last year’s men’s runner-up at the nationals, that means being extra aggressive on the Boston ice.

"My mindset is totally different now," he said. "You always want to achieve success, but in an Olympic year, it’s about being successful by more attacking. More attacking everything. My belief is if I attack, success will come. I would be very upset with myself if I don’t go for it in everything that I do."

The nationals begin Thursday with the short program for pairs and for men. The women and ice dancers get started Friday and the event runs through Sunday.

Afterward, 15 American athletes will turn their attention to Russia.

"I have nothing to lose, everything to gain," Rippon said. "We all feel this way. Seize the moment."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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