December 12, 2015

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) An encouraging message from a friend back home was all that figure skater Ashley Wagner needed to summon the right frame of mind in the middle of the Grand Prix Final.

Wagner finished fourth at the GP Final in Barcelona on Saturday, but it was almost a win in her books considering from how far back she'd come.

After a wretched short program, she had a stellar performance in the long program thanks to an inspiring conversation with training partner Adam Rippon, who was back in Los Angeles. The talk, and the Barcelona result, have boosted her confidence for her title defense at the U.S. championships in January and, she hopes, the world championships at home in March.

It all comes back to the phone call with Rippon from her hotel on Friday.

''I was saying, `Maybe this isn't my place anymore, maybe this isn't what I should be doing?''' Wagner told The Associated Press. ''And he sat me down and said, `Maybe you should start listening to all these tweets that you send out, all these Instagram posts that say that you just love the sport, and maybe you should just skate because you love it, not think about the results, and the rest will follow.'''

Wagner said Rippon couldn't have been more spot-on.

''I read what he said to me before I went out, and it just kind of let me relax,'' she said. ''I just talked through my doubts with him, and he sent me a hard copy so that I could just look and remember. That's what good friends are for.''

Wagner said it was crucial for her to perform as well as she did in her final competitive skate before the nationals. She said that to rebound like that ''was a lot more important than most people'' would realize.

''The fact that I was able to better my personal best, it just shows that I am prepared this season,'' said Wagner, who couldn't hold back tears as she left the ice.

''Going into nationals after having three bad skates already, to add a fourth one on top of it, it would be very difficult to mentally be able to get onto the ice at nationals and feel in control,'' she said.

''To show myself that it's not a physical problem, it's not a technical problem, it's more of a mental thing that I'm capable of pushing beyond, that's huge for me going into the nationals.''

Wagner won her first GP this season, in Canada, but was coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in Japan.

''The only thing that holds me back is myself, and often that is my toughest competition. So to be able to get out of my own way today was just such a treat,'' she said. ''This season my lowest have been spectacularly low, but my highs have been personal bests. So I know what I'm capable of, I know that I can put together stellar performances. It's just when I'm gonna let myself do that on a regular basis and not just kind of hope for the best.''

At the nationals, Wagner will likely dual with Gracie Gold, who finished fifth in Barcelona.

''It might not have been Gracie's best performance here, but she always comes to nationals very prepared,'' said Wagner, who set all U.S. scoring records when she won her title. ''So I'm not going to have any room for error next time.''

Gold was runner-up to Wagner at the nationals, but is not having a good season so far.

''We'll have to reevaluate the jump content of my programs because I've only done one clean program this season,'' Gold said. ''I'm pretty far behind in that regard and my consistency is lacking. Going to nationals will be extra motivation. It's another competition. It determines the rest of the season and next season.''

The nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota will qualify skaters for the Four Continents in Taiwan in February, and the worlds in Boston.

Wagner said it would ''be huge'' for an American to win a medal at the worlds at home.

''I think that's what American figure skating needs. It needs a ladies' medalist, and it's time. We are both two extremely capable ladies,'' she said. ''But you know, I'm not going to be able to get on that podium if I skate the two performances that I did here. I need to build on top of this long program and I need to have a short program that boosts me up, not something that is kind of dragging me down.''

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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