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Mirai Nagasu finished third at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships — a tournament that, provided a skater places well, tends to establish his or her worthiness for selection to the U.S. team for the following Winter Olympics. Despite Nagasu's admirable finish, though, the U.S. Figure Skating selection committee at the time decided her "body of work" throughout the year weighed a little too much against her championships placing to earn a spot on the Olympic team.
Instead, what many thought would be Nagasu's spot went to Ashley Wagner, who finished right behind Nagasu at the same tournament. A decision made in a boardroom — not a performance failure or biased officiating — kept Nagasu from representing her country at the highest level in Sochi, Russia, that year. But she wasn't done.
Fast forward to the first week of January 2018, when Nagasu landed a triple-axel twice at the Figure Skating Championships — a jump only two other American women have completed — which secured her a second place finish in the tournament. Her redemption was complete when a committee announced the next day that she had been selected to the 2018 U.S. Olympic figure skating team, along with Bradie Tennell and Karen Chen, who had placed first and third, respectively.
Leading up to and throughout that competition, many expected Nagasu to come back swinging; to skate and speak out with some (justifiable) resentment. Instead, she competed with a smile, grateful that her 2014 failure motivated her to hone her technique.
I won't pretend to be an authority on figure skating, but you don't have to be one to know that the sport is dominated by teenagers and early 20-somethings. It makes the longevity of Nagasu — a senior-level U.S. championship competitor since 2008 and a soon-to-be-two-time Olympian — as uncommon as her maturity. That's not to say that all figure skaters are drama queens, but Nagasu's grace at this year's Figure Skating Championships found the perfect contrast in Wagner's pettiness after the same tournament.
Wagner is an impressive athlete herself, having won the championships three times on top of taking home a bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics. But while she made the U.S. Olympic team four years ago as a result of the selection committee's shocking decision to eschew Nagasu, as previously mentioned, Wagner did not make the cut for this year's team.
Disappointment is to be expected when you come so close to the Olympic dream, but unlike Nagasu, Wagner's disappointment has become vitriolic. She was "furious" last week at the score she received, according to USA Today, and made strong claims that the judges significantly underrated her performance.
I can't knowledgeably cosign the criticisms of her programs, to be sure, but I can be annoyed at the fact that someone who has benefitted from officials' decision-making in the past is now lashing out at that very same process simply because its results weren't in her favor this time.
Wagner is a proud skater, but slamming top judges for valid decision-making is not pride; it is entitlement. It's Abby of the #StayMadAbby campaign clawing at the University of Texas for admitting students of color on the basis of affirmative action when she simply didn't measure up to its admission standards. It's one of the many White women my Black sister catered to as a retail employee that raised hell and belittled her when exceptions to store policy couldn't be made for their requests.
For Wagner's outrage to be the biggest story of the figure skating team selection, and not Nagasu's triumphant redemption, is a disservice to the latter. The Washington Post's article was exceptionally sympathetic to Wagner and dismissive of Nagasu, even spelling Nagasu's name incorrectly upon the article's initial publication, prompting a wave of criticism that ultimately brought the story to my attention:
Wagner stands by her frustration, but has since acknowledged how her reaction has taken attention away from the accomplishments of her peers — and rightfully so. She can be mad in the heat of things, of course, but she can also be mindful of her own big breaks in the sport, and can certainly learn a thing or two from her peer about humility and letting others have their moment.
I hope the media has learned from this debacle and will start choosing to highlight the achievement of a person of color instead of a White person's related frustrations. In the meantime, congratulations to Tennell, Chen, and Nagasu on the honor of representing the United States at the 2018 Winter Olympics; the media will have no choice but to make their successes some of the top stories out of PyeongChang.