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Ashley Wagner says she was sexually assaulted at 17 by fellow skater

The U.S. national champ, now 28, said the late skater John Coughlin climbed into bed with her one night after a party.
Image: Ashley Wagner
SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03: Ashley Wagner competes in the Ladies Short Program during the 2018 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the SAP Center on January 3, 2018 in San Jose, California.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Champion figure skater Ashley Wagner said in a new video that she was sexually assaulted by a fellow skater at a party when she was 17 years old.

Wagner, now 28, opened up about the alleged assault in a video for USA Today, explaining that the late John Coughlin got into a bed where she was sleeping after the party, and groped and kissed her.

"I had been sleeping and didn't move because I didn't understand what it meant," she said in the video. "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."

Coughlin, a two-time U.S. pairs champion, died by suicide in January. He had recently been suspended from figure skating for unspecified conduct, according to The Associated Press.

John Coughlin poses with skating partner Caitlin Yankowskas after winning the Championship Pairs competition during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 2011.Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

He was 22 at the time of the alleged assault, said Wagner, a three-time national champion and the 2016 world silver medalist.

"Looking back now, I didn't understand that his hands knew the way around a woman's body because he was 22," she told USA Today. "He was a man. But I was just a girl. 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. I just continued to lie there pretending to be asleep, hoping that he would get bored and go somewhere else. He didn't."

Wagner said she started to cry and pulled away, telling Coughlin to stop. "And he did," she said. "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 also posted about her alleged assault on Instagram, urging people to "talk more about these experiences."

Wagner's camp declined to comment further on the allegations.

TODAY has reached out to both Coughlin's sister and his former agent for comment, and will update this story when we hear back.

In the video, Wagner explained that she had "wrestled" with whether or not to reveal Coughlin's name.

"Without it, I know people will question my credibility," she said. "But this is not about a name. This is about the environment that allowed for that act to happen. I want the issue to feel real to people, and for them to understand the dynamics of my sport, where uncomfortable power balances thrive to this day."

She said she decided to share her story so people "start talking about how to create boundaries," and to help keep young skaters safe in the sport she loves.

Wagner has been working with officials at U.S. Figure Skating, the sport's governing body, on ways to protect athletes.

"What happened to Ashley should not happen to anyone, period," USFS spokesperson Barbara Reichert said in a statement sent to TODAY. "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.

"Further, Ashley's perspective has helped us expand the scope of our athlete safety initiatives and education and words cannot express how much we appreciate her sharing her story with our members."

Wagner also explained in the USA Today video why she waited to come forward, saying she was a young skater who "didn't want to stir the pot" or "cause trouble."

"The next morning, (Coughlin) acted like nothing happened, so I acted like nothing happened," she said. "I thought that maybe I had misinterpreted it all. In 2008, I didn't have the knowledge and empowerment that came along with the #MeToo movement. No one had explained consent to me. Something that was so ambiguous (then) is very clear now. I was sexually assaulted."