SOCHI, Russia — Ashley Wagner's meltdown last month at U.S. figure skating nationals in Boston left critics questioning whether she belonged in the Olympics. She didn't get a medal Thursday night, but she said she accomplished her mission since hitting bottom on Boston.
"I have come from a bawling, scared, 22-year-old girl to a tough, proud, happy woman coming home to the U.S. with a bronze medal (in the team event) and three clean performances," the first-time Olympian from Alexandria, Va., said after a solid free skate that earned her seventh place at the Olympics.
She now has her sights set on the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
"As soon as I landed in Sochi, I knew I was signed on for the next four years," said Wagner. "I think working with (coach Rafael Arutyunyan), he's been able to do so much with me in six months. … I can't even begin to imagine what a year with him would be like technically and what four years could be like. … It's a changing of the guards now. And I'm ready to be there."
In Boston, Wagner fell twice in her long program and finished fourth. But based on her past international performances, she was put on the Olympic team over third-place Mirai Nagasu.
After her short program during the team event here, Wagner became an Internet sensation when she made an angry, disappointed face in the Kiss & Cry.
After getting 127.99 points in the free skate Thursday night and 198.22 overall, Wagner still wasn't happy with the scoring. "This competition has been full of surprises. … I was a little bit surprised with the short (score) as well as the long," she said.
But she said she didn't skate to prove anything to critics or judges.
"I knew that I would not be able to predict where I would be scored in this competition," she said. "So thinking about what I was up against wasn't going to help at all. This was for me and proving to myself that I belonged here."
All three of the U.S. women finished in the top 10, but the USA will go home empty-handed in the individual events, failing to win a medal in either men's or women's for the first time since 1936.
The best finish was fourth by 18-year-old Gracie Gold. Polina Edmunds, 15, was ninth. Both took falls on attempted triple flips.
"When I went down, I thought, 'Dang it. That's what (coach) Frank Carroll told me not to do — don't drop that right arm,' '' said Gold, who trains with Carroll in Los Angeles.
She scored 136.90 in the free skate and 205.53 overall. She said she'll learn and move on.
"I definitely have two Olympics in me," Gold said. "I don't know about three Olympics."
Edmunds, a high school sophomore from San Jose, Calif., made the Olympic team by finishing second at nationals behind Gold.
"To be in the top ten (at the Olympics) is great. … It's just me skating my best, and the judges decide what numbers I'll get," said Edmunds (122.21 in the free skate and 183.25 overall).
"I'm really happy with skate because it was a really good skate and for the most part it was really strong. I did fall on the flip and that was disappointing. But I came back strong after that and I'm really happy that I skated such a good program."
She, too, is pointing toward 2018.
"Definitely, I'd love to come back to the Olympics," Edmunds said. "That's four years from now, and I know I have to keep building up my strength."