Top three or best three?

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Mirai Nagasu sits in third place heading into Saturday's free skate finale.

BOSTON -- Ashley Wagner is the two-time reigning U.S. women's figure skating champion, but she heads into Saturday night's deciding long program in fourth place.

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Ashley Wagner is vying for one of three spots on the U.S. Olympic women's figure skating team.

Now, only three women will make the Olympic team, but the selection guidelines allow U.S. Figure Skating to name a skater to the team even if she does not finish among the top three. So if Wagner doesn't improve her position, should she be named to the team anyway, at the expense of another athlete who performed better when it mattered most?

David Glynn, who coaches Polina Edmunds, the 15-year-old currently in second after a dazzling performance in Thursday's short program, says definitely not. The three Olympic spots, he maintains, should go to the top three skaters at the U.S. nationals, "the toughest competition of the year for these kids."

"I think U.S. Figure Skating would have a hard time not naming the top three skaters to the three spots on the Olympic team," Glynn said Friday. "I think it would be very difficult for them to face the media having made that decision, so I don't anticipate that being a problem."

Frank Carroll, who has coached everyone from Linda Fratianne to Michelle Kwan to Evan Lysacek, says that depending on the circumstances, he would not have a problem with a fourth-place skater being elevated in order to send "our best team to the Olympics."

Asked if he would feel differently if his skater, Gracie Gold, got bumped from the team under such circumstances, Carroll replied with a smile, "Well, my kid is sitting in first place."

"I don't think they're going to knock Gracie out. I don't think they'll knock the top two skaters out," he said, referring to Gold and Wagner's overall record. "They're sitting fifth and sixth in the world. Who do we have in the past three or four years who have been that high in the world? We need people who have reputations and are the best. Who do you think the best girls we have are?

"Polina was magnificent Thursday night, but when you look at that field, who do you think are the best girls?"

Wagner and Gold have the track record, finishing first and second last year at nationals and fifth and sixth at worlds, respectively. Mirai Nagasu, currently in third, has Olympic experience, finishing fourth at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Then there is Edmunds. Carroll declared her the future of American skating, but she has no international experience outside of junior competition.

Glynn said that doesn't matter, that Edmunds has competed well in international junior competition and she has what it takes to be an Olympian. "She's 2014's version of Tara Lipinski as far as being tough."

Wagner, meanwhile, sees both sides of the question.

"I think the rules are there for a good reason," Wagner said. "You could be the best skater all season and those could just not be your two nights [at nationals] and that should not define whether or not you have the potential to be an Olympian.

"But at the same time, I am here to get on the podium. I'm here to really earn that spot. I don't want to ever feel like I took away the spot from someone else."

Another thing to consider is that Wagner and Gold have already sort of earned a spot on the Olympic team because their performance at last year's world championships guaranteed the U.S. team a third berth in Sochi.

Wagner said she's not thinking about that, though. "I will earn my spot when I get on that podium Saturday night, hopefully."

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