It was stressful, but I came out on top

Courtsy IMG

Ashley Wagner preps backstage before competing at Saturday's U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

I’m sure every figure skater would love to have that perfectly incredible long program, one that ends with the audience jumping to its feet in cheers. That certainly wasn’t the case with my performance on Saturday. But thankfully even with a couple of falls, my combined score from the short and long programs was enough for me to defend the national title in Omaha, Neb.

The past couple months have not been easy, to say the least. My knee is still healing from my wipe-out at the Grand Prix in Sochi in December, and then a run-in with some bad Caesar salad dressing last week had me off the ice with food poisoning for a few days going into nationals. When I recovered I was pretty wiped out, so going into the competition I was starting to get worried, because I hadn't been able to train the way I had in years past. Training for me is as much mental as physical, and everything just felt really uncertain.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Despite an imperfect day, Ashley Wagner was able to win a second U.S. national title and became the first skater since 2005 to defend her crown.

No one can prepare you for how overwhelming it is to come into nationals as the defending champ. I’ve talked to greats in the sport about it -- Scott Hamilton and Brian Boitano -- and they say the first time is the hardest. All eyes are on you and you really feel the pressure. It just goes to show why no one had defended the national title since Michelle Kwan in 2005. It’s hard to do!

Needless to say, it was not my most fun nationals. In fact, it was the most stressful event ever. I was able to keep my head on my shoulders going into the first night, but by the time we got to the long program the second night, I’d used a lot of the energy I’d been saving all week. I was really tired, and that affected me mentally. The first half went great, but then I started thinking too much, which is always the downfall of a good competition -- literally.

Silver medalist Gracie Gold had a great long program. I’d been up against her a couple of times before, and she’s a phenomenal athlete. There’s no doubt she was the winner of the long program. But it’s a two-part event, and I had just enough of a lead after the short program to defend my title.

The worst part of the competition was standing there knowing that Gracie had skated really well, but not knowing what her score was. I had a number in my head of how my long program was going to be scored -- and I was fairly accurate -- but I didn’t know what she’d gotten. In the end, I needed every point to come out on top. Ultimately I was upset because I knew what I was capable of, and I didn’t achieve it on Saturday, but I’m thankful I was able to come home defending the title anyway.

Nationals is an exhausting event. Afterward all I wanted to do was talk to my mom and relax a bit. Now it’s time to rest up and get my feet back under me from the couple of challenging weeks I had. I’ve turned down the Four Continents Championships in Osaka, Japan, in order to stay focused on training for worlds in London, Ontario, in mid-March.

And while I have a little downtime, I’ve decided to reward myself for the nationals win with a new car to replace the beat-up old Jeep Grand Cherokee I’ve got. The Jeep has done several cross-country trips, and traveled up and down the coast every weekend for years, so it’s got a lot of miles on it. I’m thinking I'll get a Subaru, but we’ll see!