The Olympics are about the best of the best competing. It's fierce competition among amazing athletes who worked nearly all their lives to earn a spot on the team. But are all Olympic placements made on merit, or could there be more behind the choices on who represents each country? The U.S. Figure Skating's pick to send 22-year-old Ashley Wagner to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics over 20-year-old Mirai Nagasu sparked controversy with questions on whether the blond, blue-eyed skater deserved the honor more than her Asian counterpart.
These ladies are superb athletes, no doubt about it. Nagasu is a two-time medalist at the World Junior Championships and became the youngest woman since Tara Lipinksi in 1997 to win the U.S. senior ladies title. Wagner is a Four Continent and Skate America champion. One of them however, won a bronze medal in the 2014 U.S. National Championships, while the other placed fourth. The latter is on her way to Sochi, facing criticism from media and Nagasu fans alike.
Picking a fourth-place skater over a bronze medalist is an unprecedented decision, and Olympic viewers know it. Despite falling twice and faltering in her performance, Wagner made the team. Even she knew it wasn't up to par, tweeting her apologies on Sunday.
Instead, U.S. Figure Skating says it considered the 22-year-old's resume, allowing her past results from previous seasons to be judged. So if the criteria is permissible, what's the big deal? Critics say Wagner is more marketable than Nagasu; closer to the archetypal Team USA athlete.
One Wall Street Journal op-ed muses on why Nagasu got the boot, saying the real irony is that Wagner was born in Germany, while Nagasu was born in California.
Wagner’s flowing blond hair, bellflower-blue eyes and sculpted features mark her as a sporting archetype: She’s the embodiment of the “golden girl” the media has extolled when they’ve waxed poetic about idealized ice queens of the past, from Norway’s Sonja Henie to East Germany’s Katarina Witt, a marketer’s dream who’s already signed up tent-pole sponsors like Nike, Pandora Jewelry and CoverGirl, which assessed her Teutonic beauty as being worthy of serving as one of their global “faces.”
Nagasu, meanwhile, though actually one inch taller than Wagner, looks young for her two decades; her round face and wide smile have led commentators to grace her with epithets like “adorable” and “cute.”
Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton weighed in on the controversy, saying he was sad for Nagasu, but that Wagner had earned her spot. Figure skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi tweeted her support for Nagasu after her performance.
Nagasu fans also took to social media to voice their disagreement with the choice, creating the hashtag #MiraiEarnedIt. The U.S. Figure Skating Facebook page was flooded with comments, with one reading "Ashley Wagner does NOT belong on the Olympic team" and another saying the organization lacked integrity and had a "penchant for playing favorites." An online petition on change.org garnered more than 3,000 signatures to send Nagasu to Sochi.
What's the Olympics without some drama?