Former Olympian Ashley Wagner says she was sexually assaulted by another figure skater in 2008 when she 17.
The three-time national champion wrote in USA Today on Thursday that John Coughlin climbed into her bed after a party at a skating camp and began kissing and groping her. Coughlin was 22 at the time and took his life in January at 33.
Wagner says she was “absolutely paralyzed in fear.”
Wagner won an Olympic team bronze medal in 2014 and is now retired from competitive skating. She says she feared speaking out earlier because she competes in a sport where judges determine success. She told the newspaper two factors helped change her mind — the emergence of the #MeToo movement and Coughlin’s coaching suspension in January by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an organization dedicated to protecting young athletes from abuse.
USA Today also reported that Coughlin’s former pairs partner from 2004-07, Bridget Namiotka, posted on Facebook in May that Coughlin “sexually abused” her for two years.
Wagner said soon after that night in 2008 she told two people close to her about what happened. USA Today spoke to one of those, who confirmed her account but was not identified because of the “sensitivity of the topic.” Wagner said she spoke with officials at U.S. Figure Skating in February.
In a USFS statement released to the newspaper, spokeswoman Barbara Reichert said:
“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. Ashley recently spoke at U.S. Figure Skating athlete safety seminars and her experience and message of empowerment had a profound impact on skaters and their parents.”
The U.S. Center for SafeSport and the figure skating federation had begun investigating allegations lodged against Coughlin late last year. They found enough evidence to warrant an interim suspension barring him from attending activities sanctioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Coughlin had become a coach and TV commentator after retiring from skating.
Coughlin maintained his innocence throughout the investigations. He was found dead Jan. 18 at his father’s home in Kansas City, Missouri.
His father, Mike Coughlin, said by phone Thursday the allegations against his son go back many years, and he doesn’t believe any are valid. He adds his son did not coach any of those skaters and he had no leverage over them.
“John was a fellow skater with the people involved,” Mike Coughlin said. “And it is, you know, just a tragic situation.”