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Ashley Wagner Says John Coughlin Sexually Assaulted Her When She Was 17

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistAugust 1, 2019

Ashley Wagner, of the United States, skates her free program at the World figure skating championships in Helsinki, Finland, on Friday, March 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Retired United States Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner said Thursday that late American figure skater John Coughlin sexually assaulted her in June 2008 when she was 17 years old. 

In an interview with Christine Brennan of USA Today, Wagner said Coughlin climbed into her bed following a team party in Colorado Springs, Colorado, before kissing and groping her without her consent. Coughlin was 22 years old at the time.

Coughlin took his own life in January at the age of 33 amid three sexual misconduct allegations against him, including one from former pairs figure skating partner Bridget Namiotka, who said she was a minor when Coughlin sexually abused her.

Wagner said she was "paralyzed in fear" during the assault before grabbing Coughlin's hand and telling him to stop "several minutes" later. Wagner added that Coughlin left the room at that point.

Now 28, Wagner further reflected on what happened that night in June 2008 in an essay for USA Today: "I now know that regardless of the events of that night, I got into that bed thinking I was safe to just fall asleep. He was the one who took away that safety. I went into that house just wanting to have fun with my friends. He was the one who shattered all of that."

Wagner also discussed what made her come forward 11 years later:

"I didn't really genuinely process what this was until the start of the #MeToo movement. Hearing other women come forward with their stories, it kind of made me reflect on this experience in a completely different manner. I had always felt violated but something within that movement really showed me that I was violated and I did have my safety and comfort taken away from me that night."

U.S. Figure Skating spokeswoman Barbara Reichert expressed support for Wagner on the organization's behalf: "What happened to Ashley should not happen to anyone, period. Ashley is incredibly strong; not just to have the courage to come forward with her story, but to share her experience publicly to help others."

Wagner was among the best female figure skaters in the world during her career. Arguably her biggest accomplishment was winning bronze in the team event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

She also won three national titles and won silver in the ladies' singles event at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships.

Wagner said she never discussed the sexual assault with Coughlin prior to his death in January, but decided to file a report with USA Figure Skating in February.