Ashley Wagner knew she had to up the difficulty of her jumps to climb the final steps to the podium at a global figure skating championship.
She was fifth and fourth at the worlds the past two seasons, and Wagner felt the difference between her and the medalists was a factor of three.
Three squared, in a sense, meaning a combination of triple jumps, which she had not done in a major international event.
"A clean program will do a lot, but it will not win the Olympics," Wagner said in a teleconference last week. "And it most likely will not get me onto the Olympic podium.
"I don’t think I’m talented enough to get on the podium without a triple-triple."
So the two-time U.S. champion did not wait any longer to see what the impact of a successful triple-triple could be.
Wagner nailed a triple flip – triple toe loop to open Saturday’s short program at Skate America in Detroit, the first Grand Prix event of this Olympic season, where she wound up with a personal best score of 69.26 points.
While that was not enough to give Wagner the lead over Japan’s Mao Asada, it was the key difference in her staying second ahead of precocious – and over scored - Russian Elena Radionova.
Asada, reigning Olympic silver medalist, got 73.18 points, thanks in part to the idiosyncrasies (idiocies?) of a scoring system that gives full base value credit for a jump landed on two feet, as her triple axel was Saturday.
Truth be told, Asada built nearly all her advantage over Wagner on spins and footwork and the performance quality of her lighter-than-air skating.
Radionova, who looks nine years old, actually is 14, too young to compete in the Winter Olympics but eligible for senior Grand Prix events under current International Skating Union rules.
The reigning world junior champion raced pell-mell around the rink, in a style good for short track skating. The judges overlooked all the artistic lacunae and awarded her 67.01, putting Radionova No. 11 on the all-time short program list until Wagner passed her a few minutes later.
"I was very, very pleased with how the day went," Wagner said. "It’s been a while since I got my flip-toe out there, and I never got it out there in the short program (before). To get that out there clean is a huge accomplishment for me."
The free skate is Sunday.
Another Russian entry also got an impressive score Saturday, but pairs skaters Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov earned their world record 83.05 with a dazzling short program. That topped the old mark of 81.65 the reigning world champions set last month and gave them a nearly 12-point lead going into Sunday’s free skate.