Olympic medalist Ashley Wagner, who won the bronze medal in Sochi (and went viral with her expression of anger at her scores), seemed to be a shoo-in for a spot on the 2018 Olympic team. USA Today reports that they spoke with several U.S. figure skating experts who all said that 2016 world silver medalist Ashley Wagner would make the 2018 team if she didn't make any major mistakes, either by being in the top three or being put on the team by U.S. Figure Skating’s international committee.
Here's the thing. Wagner is not a woman to bite her tongue. She's an intelligent woman with opinions and she's not afraid to share them, possibly to her detriment in a strangely conservative sport. She didn't make any major mistakes in her elegant routine (which she regrettably changed a month prior to skating), but she still didn't make the team. Wagner wasn't happy about this, which she made very clear, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
"I'm furious, I am absolutely furious," Wagner said. "I know when I go and I lay it down and I absolutely left one jump on the table, but for me to put out two programs that I did at this competition as solid as I skated and to get those scores, I am furious, and I think deservedly so. I am a performer and that second mark is just not there. I am absolutely okay with them being strict on my rotations. That's what I think that U.S. Figure Skating should demand of their judges but it needs to be across the board. I don't necessarily feel like it's been that way at this event, so we'll see how things pan out."
Statements like this, in which she is outspoken about what she believes, may have been what cost Wagner her spot on the team.
Before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, at a U.S. Olympic Committee media summit, she veered from the USOC official stance of not commenting on politics to stand up for gay rights in the face of Russia's oppressive policies. “I have gay family members and a lot of friends in the LGBT community,” Wagner said. “I have such a firm stance on this. I believe we should all have equal rights, and I also do not support the legislation in Russia."
Wagner continued to criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law, even when she arrived on Russian soil. Many of us saw her stance as courageous. But not being in step with the official stance may have cost her goodwill from the U.S. Olympic Committee, as her comments were seen as distracting from the games.
She's also active on Twitter and Instagram, sharing her feelings about the sport. She has criticized the behavior of President Donald Trump.
Unfortunately, Wagner is not the only skater to have felt the conservative chill of competitive skating. Johnny Weir, known as much for his over-the-top costumes as his breathtaking routines, was also seen as being penalised by the U.S. Figure Skating’s international committee. In a sport that favours traditionally masculine routines from its performers, Weir's swan costumes and tendency towards beautifully choreographed routines seemed to doom his scores. A three-time national champion, he placed a dismal sixth overall, with the bronze going to a skater who fell down during his performance. The skater turned announcer, who commentators sometimes called Johnny "Weird," did not come out until after his retirement.
U.S. Figure Skating President Sam Auxier defended the choice of Karen Chen in the third spot, over Wagner, saying to the Washington Post, “Karen was fourth last year” [at world championships]. “Ashley was seventh. And then third versus fourth at this year’s U.S. championships. It was a very straightforward, clear criteria for selecting Karen as the third member of the team.”
Wagner has been a lightning rod for controversy over the years, a role model, and an incredibly talented skater. Let's hope she wasn't penalised for being outspoken and that we'll see much more of her in the years to come.