SOCHI, Russia – Ashley Wagner hinted she might add a new high-risk, high-reward trick to her long program for Thursday night's figure skating finale in a desperate attempt to force her way into medal contention.
Wagner sits in sixth place after recording a score of 65.21 in Wednesday's short program. She needs a dramatic revival to stand a chance of making the podium.
"I think I might have something up my sleeve," Wagner said with a smile when asked how she might narrow the gap to the top contenders.
Despite skating a clean short program, the American was nearly 10 points behind defending champion and overnight leader Yuna Kim (74.92) of South Korea. Russia's Adelina Sotnikova finished second at 74.64 after an impressive and crowd-pleasing routine, and Carolina Kostner of Italy was in third place at 74.12.
Performing her regular long program is unlikely to be enough for Wagner to improve her standing. Indications are that she is ready to throw caution to the wind at the Iceberg Skating Palace and attempt a risky maneuver that could shake up the competition, especially with her skating second-to-last just before Kim and after every other medal hopeful.
"There is nothing to lose," Wagner said. "I think that is the great part about how I am set up for [Thursday]. This is the lovely sport of figure skating and it is always full of surprises."
There are countless different moves or combinations that Wagner could try to implement into her free skate to boost her difficulty level and the potential to gain more points. However, making a last-minute change would be an extraordinary gamble – albeit one that could come with a giant upside.
"To throw in another jump that she is not comfortable with, the risk would be crazy," said Yahoo Sports figure skating analyst Elvis Stojko, who thinks the biggest gamble would be a triple Axel or even a quad jump but doesn't believe Wagner will go that far.
"If she lands it she can pick up extra points, but it could also be detrimental. But that is the kind of warrior that she is, she is not afraid to lay it all out there and that makes her a great fighter."
Wagner's treatment at the hands of the judging panel has surprised many in the U.S. camp at these Winter Games. Her short program score was even behind home favorite Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia, who fell heavily during the early part of her routine but still managed to register a 65.23.
The 22-year-old American was visibly annoyed at her short program mark while skating in the team competition, although she managed to keep her emotions in check after Wednesday's short program for singles.
Wagner dropped another hint that she may have been working on a special move during pre-Olympic training, although no evidence of anything out of the ordinary has been seen during her official practice sessions in Sochi.
"Going into [Thursday] night honestly I worked so hard the past month that I really just owe it to myself to go out there and do what I have been doing in training," she said.
"It sounds so PC-athlete but honestly I worked my butt off every single day since nationals and I have been way too tired, way too sweaty and exhausted and angry with training to not go out there and do it. So this is really for me, this is my Olympic experience."
Whether she decides to go for the ultimate risk or not, Wagner sounds ready to bow out of the Olympics with a bang.