Olympic Skater Ashley Wagner Claims John Coughlin Sexually Assaulted Her at 17

U.S. national champion is sharing allegations involving the late athlete

By Jess Cohen Aug 01, 2019 5:02 PMTags
Ashley WagnerTim Bradbury/Getty Images

Figure skating champion Ashley Wagner is sharing allegations of sexual assault against John Coughlin.

In a piece for USA Today, published on Thursday, the Olympic athlete details the 2008 incident allegedly involving her fellow skater, who died by suicide in January. In her story, Wagner states that she was just 17 at the time, while Coughlin was 22.

"I was attending a figure skating camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and some of the local athletes were having people over at a house," she writes. "I had always been hyper-focused on skating, so I had never been to a party before. I knew everyone there, so it felt like it was okay to have a little fun. I also had never had anything to drink before, but all of my friends were having some and I was curious. I wanted to fit in."

U.S. Figure Skater John Coughlin Dead at 33

"As the party wound down, no one could drive me back to the hotel where I was staying, so a few other girls and I had to spend the night," Wagner continues. "It felt safe. My friends were there. I was offered up a bed and didn't think twice about taking it, and soon drifted off to sleep."

She then shares that, during the middle of the night, she felt Coughlin "crawl into my bed."

"I had been sleeping and didn't move because I didn't understand what it meant," Wagner writes. "I thought he just wanted a place to sleep. But then he started kissing my neck. I pretended to be deep asleep, hoping he would stop. He didn't. When his hands started to wander, when he started touching me, groping my body, I tried to shift around so that he would think I was waking up and would stop. He didn't."

"When he continued to wander further over my body, I started to get scared because he was so much bigger than I was, and I didn't know if I could push him off," she shares. "I just continued to lie there pretending to be asleep, hoping that he would get bored and go somewhere else. He didn't."

Wagner says that she felt herself starting to cry and knew she had to "make a choice." 

"I opened my eyes and pulled away from him as he kissed my neck," she recalls. "I grabbed his invading hand, and I told him to stop. And he did. He looked at me for a few seconds, quietly got up and left the room. All of this happened over the period of about five minutes. That is such a small amount of time, but it's haunted me ever since."

Wagner notes that she "wrestled" with the idea of using Coughlin's name before coming forward with her story.

"He was a prominent figure skater who died by suicide in January, and so I fully understand the issues with naming him," she writes. "But a name can shape so much of how my story is perceived. Without it, I know people will question my credibility."

"I do not see myself as a victim, and I never want anyone else to think of me that way," Wagner states. "After that awful night in 2008, I moved on with my life, but I was always confused about what to think of him. He never apologized, and I never asked for an apology. We both moved forward, never acknowledging what he did to me."

On Jan. 17, shortly before his passing, U.S. Figure Skating officials announced that Coughlin, 33, had been temporarily suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport. At the time, further details on the reason for the temporary suspension were not shared.

For free, confidential help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit rainn.org.