After a peripatetic childhood and career, Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner, 27, recently relocated to Boston. Born in Heidelberg, Germany, she moved a lot while growing up, living in states as far-flung as Alaska. In 2002, she qualified for the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships, and she went on to win bronze in the team competition during the 2014 Olympics as well as silver at the 2016 World Championships. A three-time national champion, she coaches at the Skating Club of Boston and works for NBC Sports as a figure skating analyst.
Jonathan Soroff: What one thing do all Olympians have in common?
Ashley Wagner: A little bit of narcissism, I would have to say. I also think we all love our own personal journeys, and we love the fact that we’re doing something really, really cool.
When you were a kid, you moved around a lot. Did that inform your skating in any way? I think it did. I’m definitely the Gypsy woman of the figure skating scene. I moved nine times in 10 years. So I was able to work with a ton of different coaches, which in some ways was a better thing and in other ways held me back a little bit. But I was influenced by a lot of different people in my career.
As a child, you were given the choice between ballet and skating, and you turned your nose up at ballet because of the “pink shoes.” I was not having the idea of ballet. I was a tomboy. And little did I know that I picked the girliest sport that there ever was, and I didn’t think about the spandex and sparkles that were comin’ in hot. And here I am now.
How are your feet? Well, for photo shoots, I’m definitely keeping my shoes on. My foot-modeling career was over the day I first put them into a skating boot, and I never looked back.
How do you pick your music? OK. So you have to think about the fact that you’re going to be listening to that one piece of music hundreds of times a day. So you’re going to end up hating it, but you have to be OK with that. And for me, I try to pick music that’s a bit more contemporary and fun. I skated to Eurythmics two seasons ago. I think skating is amazing for so many reasons, but I find pretty princess skating to be a little dull for me to do every single day, so I like to spice it up, bring a little bit of heat and do something that’s a little more sexy.
All-time idol, in terms of skating? Honestly, Katarina Witt. She was the woman of figure skating. She went out and commanded your attention unapologetically, and there’s something that’s just so sexy about that.
Most embarrassing fall? Oh, there’s one fall that I’m pretty sure affected my ability to reproduce later down the line. [Laughs.] I fell so hard on the ice in competition. A straight-on belly-flop on the ice, and I still had another jump to go after that, and I just told myself that if I didn’t land that jump, I definitely wasn’t getting up again, so I had no choice.
Best recovery? This is going to sound pretty ridiculous, but figure skating has its ridiculous moments. I was competing with my hair in a bun and halfway through the program, it fell apart into this nasty, hair-sprayed, ratty ponytail. It was quite the look, so I turned it into hairography and saved the day.
Ashley Wagner on the cover of The Improper’s Feb. 27 issue. Photo: Andrew Parsons
Ever tried speed skating? I have, actually. One of my exes was a speedskater, so we did a little trading of the sports, and I have to say I showed no promise whatsoever.
How about hockey? [Laughs.] Another one of my exes was a hockey player. You have to basically be on ice in order for me to date you. So, yes. Any ice sport. You name it, I’ve been on it.
If you didn’t skate, what would your focus be? I think for me, my main passion is all things caffeinated. I think I’d own a coffee shop somewhere, ruling the world of cappuccinos.
Ever regretted a skating costume? Yes! I’ve kind of repressed this memory, but it was either 2008 or 2009 and I was skating to Spartacus, and my costume just looked like a dirty rag that I’d wrapped around myself. I remember thinking it was so glamorous and daring, and now, looking back, I look like I’m wearing a tattered shred of shame.
Can you take your talents as a skater to the dance floor? I am a salsa-dancing fiend and I will burn down a dance floor like it is my job. Moving and shaking is what I love to do. That’s my secret/not-so-secret talent.
Who’s cuter: Adam Rippon or your cat? Oh my God! Who am I more mad at today? Ahhh. Honestly, Adam Rippon has the world’s heart, and rightly so, so I’ll go with Adam. Especially because my cat won’t know the difference but Adam will.
Are you only a cat person? What about dogs? I am a dog person trapped in a cat’s household. I travel too much to have a dog, but I need to make it known to the world that I am a dog person. Basically, I wanted to come home to a heartbeat, so I got myself a little cat, because she can survive without me. She’s the best.
What country has the worst judges? Don’t get me in trouble! Whenever I answer questions like that, I get in big trouble. I’m just going to say, “Everyone knows what country has the worst judges.”
Where do keep your medals? I have no clue. In fact, I’m kind of in a panic to think where my Olympic medal is, and I think it’s in my sock drawer. I’m more about the experience than the hardware.
Favorite souvenir from the Olympics? For the opening ceremonies, they had the ugliest sweater that ever was, and I’ve absolutely brought that out at a couple of ugly sweater parties. It’s been quite the hit.
Vera Wang: Yes or no? Always yes! Vera’s an absolute.
So is it possible that there’s a Vera Wang wedding gown in your future? If Vera wants to give me a wedding gown, yes! Otherwise, I’ll just wrap a bedsheet around myself and call it a day. [Laughs.]
What body part hurts the most after practice? My pride. [Laughs.] Figure skating just is not good for your body at all, but definitely my back.
Why do you spin clockwise and most other skaters go counterclockwise? I’d love to say I was some kind of rebel out to change the ways of figure skating, but the truth is that at age 5, they put you on the ice and say, “Turn around,” and whatever way you turn is the way you spin for the rest of your life.
What happens when you go on a spinning ride at a carnival or amusement park? Y’know, I hate amusement park rides so much. I avoid them at all costs.
What about getting dizzy doing spins? Now I do. You get your sensitivity back real quickly when you’re not working on spins. If I’m training every single day, it doesn’t bother me.
Favorite arena to perform in? The TD Garden!
Least favorite? The Saitama Super Arena in Japan. It is the hottest rink you have ever been in. It’s like 70 degrees on the ice, so when you’re performing in spandex and trying to look cute, all of a sudden you realize you’re wearing a sweatsuit. It’s not a glorious moment.
Most insta-worthy spot in Boston? My gosh. There is this church in the South End with these beautiful red doors, and I think the color pops so well on Instagram. It’s one of my favorite spots.
You’re so graceful on the ice, but in real life, are you a total klutz? Doesn’t even begin to describe it. I struggle putting one foot in front of the other on the daily, so yes. The ice is where I’m comfortable. Dry land is not. ◆
Photographer: Andrew Parsons; Hair and makeup artist: Mariolga Pantazopoulos; Location: Godfrey Hotel