Ashley Wagner On What It's Really Like to Be an Olympic Alternate
As a three-time national champion and 2014 Olympic bronze team medalist, Ashley Wagner was supposed to be competing at the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Then she came in fourth at the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals, narrowly missing a spot on the Olympic team. Afterward, she told reporters she was "absolutely furious," leading to backlash for bad sportsmanship. But despite the criticism, the skater stayed true to her emotions, continuing to be vocal about her disappointment over being named an alternate in a candid Instagram post. "I think all too often we use Instagram as a platform to show a perfectly curated life, and we don't make enough space for the real moments in our lives," she wrote.
"A couple of days ago, my Olympic dreams were crushed in the most public way possible. I was heartbroken, and my feelings were ripped apart by people who knew nothing about me or my journey. My life course changed dramatically in a matter of minutes. I don't think people feel comfortable enough saying they aren't okay, and right now I am not okay. But also, someday, hopefully soon, I'll be able to make myself be okay!"
Wagner continued training in California in case she was called upon-and then went to the Olympics with the rest of the team in order to fulfill obligations with sponsors (which include brands like Toyota, Procter and Gamble, and Zico.) We caught up with her at the tail end of her Korea experience about her decision to speak out about the disappointment, what it's *really* like being an alternate at the Olympics-and her advice for anyone dealing with a setback (even if it's not on the Olympic stage).
On speaking out about not being okay: "I think pain is how we connect with each other. I don't think it benefits anyone to only show the pretty, dreamy, prim-and-proper side to figure skating-or to life. Everyone will go through lows, that's a fact. If we can learn from each other, and how to get through it easier without feeling like the universe is crashing down on us, then I think we should.
"The emotions here are so real. There are days when I get back to that initial state of heartbrokenness or feeling of failure, and there are days when I want to stop training. But I remind myself that these are merely moments in the larger picture of life. I would say if you're struggling with something similar, it helps to remember that single moments don't define you. Life always has a way of coming through with second, and third, and fourth chances."
How training changes when you become an alternate: "The Olympics are such an incredible and overwhelming experience. You have literally worked your entire life up to this moment, and it takes a bit of adjusting and perspective control to keep going just as hard. You can be tapped in at any given point, so I took that responsibility seriously and continued my training and regimented diet plan. So, I still woke up and made myself a green smoothie (I throw in some spinach for some protein and some ZICO coconut water for those electrolytes and hydration) and I stayed on the ice running through my programs and was ready to go if I was needed."
What it's *really* like to be in Korea not competing: "To be honest, I only had a handful of days off! I have the most incredible partners, so I was running around doing a ton with them and also, dipping my toe into the other side of the business-media! I did some on-the-ground work for Access Hollywood and Olympic Channel throughout the games, which was so fun. I function so much better with a hectic schedule, I guess because that's all I've ever known, so I loved it."
On training with her BFF, Adam Rippon: "In short, it makes the hard parts of the sport easier, and the amazing parts even better. He has been so supportive of me and my career for our entire friendship. I am so happy that I get to be a part of his journey and celebrate the athlete and person he is. I always said the world would fall in love with him if they only got to know him!" (P.S. His performance was one of the most inspiring moments from the 2018 Winter Olympics.)