Skating into Seattle

A conversation with Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner

This weekend marks a homecoming of sorts for three-time U.S. national figure skating champion and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Wagner.

The 26-year old — who spent part of her childhood in Western Washington — will perform in front of her family at KeyArena on Saturday night as part of the 2017 Stars on Ice tour, an event that allows more creative freedom than the competitive circuit.  

"We’re a little bit more relaxed, " she said. " ... You’re going to see performances that definitely have some technical difficulty, and you’re going to see some really cool tricks, but then we have the freedom to add in illegal moves like backflips and specific kinds of jumps, so it’s a really fun environment."

During her visit to Seattle, she sat down with the Queen Anne & Magnolia News to discuss the tour, and her preparations for next year’s Olympics.


What does a tour like Stars on Ice look like?

Wagner: Stars on Ice is a very unique tour in that it’s really the most elite athletes that the U.S. has to offer. So we have Olympic champions like Meryl Davis and Charlie White, we have Olympic bronze medalists, national champions, so the caliber of athlete on the tour is pretty much as high quality as you’re going to get. Beyond that, it’s just kind of an opportunity for everybody to watch skating — obviously it’s so much more accessible, and seeing skating in real life versus TV is a totally different experience — and we’re a little bit more relaxed. It’s not a competitive environment, so you’re going to see performances that definitely have some technical difficulty, and you’re going to see some really cool tricks, but then we have the freedom to add in illegal moves like backflips and specific kinds of jumps, so it’s a really fun environment.

So, how does this differ from a competitive event?

Wagner: First of all, the lighting is very different. We do it all under spotlights, and that kind of gives us a little bit more room to be creative with the program, and the colors on the ice and the shapes on the ice, and beyond that, the general type of music is very different from competitive music. It’s going to be a lot more fun and poppy and current, whereas competitive music has to be a little more serious. So this is just a much more lighthearted vibe.

How does participating in something like this prepare you for the competitive season?

Wagner: I think that performing on Stars definitely kind of gives you an upper hand, because you’re getting to perform every night in front of a live audience, so there’s still that element of pressure and you still have to perform a program, so I think it’s just a great opportunity to be out in front of an audience and practice under pressure.

We’re one year out from the Olympics, how are you feeling in the lead up to Pyeongchang?

Wagner: It is insane how fast these Olympic cycles go by. I was competing in Sochi and it feels like just yesterday, so it’s a little bit overwhelming, but at the same time I’ve come so far in four years and I’m really excited to see what the next couple of months look like for me going into Pyeongchang.

Figure skating isn’t necessarily known for long careers, but you’ve been doing this for a long time. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Wagner: I think for me I was a late bloomer in my career. That definitely helped. I’m competing against 15-year old girls and I’m 26, so I definitely think that what I am doing is not common in figure skating at all, but I’m passionate about what I’m doing and I’m not the most naturally gifted skater, but I could say that I’m definitely one of the hardest working skaters and that has helped push me this far in my career.

What do you think the advantages are of being older than most of your competition?

Wagner: I think I have life experience that I can play off of. At the end of the day, you’re telling a story on the ice, you’re acting, and you’re trying to make a piece of music as believable as possible, and for me I think that that really plays into my skills as a performer, the fact that I’ve lived a life and have gone through a lot of these experiences, to make them seem as genuine as possible for an audience.

How important do you think a tour like this is for a place like Seattle, that doesn’t typically get Grand Prix events or national champions?

Wagner: It is really important for us to come into markets like Seattle, I think, because there’s still a decent skating scene, there’s a ton of young kids in the area that are figure skating, and there’s nothing quite like seeing an event live, and I feel for younger generations of skaters to feel like their favorite skaters are accessible by coming to a show like Stars on Ice, it’s really inspiring. I remember going to Stars on Ice when I was a kid, and seeing Tara Lipinski in real life, it made her a real thing, it made her accomplishments something that I could maybe do one day myself, so I think that just kind of making all of this a reality for young skaters, and seeing it in person for me, in my past, really impacted me.

What do you think your role is in growing the sport?

Wagner: I think that skating, it definitely attracts an older audience. And you never want to alienate your main audience, so of course, we’re always so grateful for that, but eventually you need to start to grow your audience and your fanbase, so I feel, for eme, making skating as interesting as possible by bringing in fresh types of music — I skated to Muse this year — and just making it a little bit more eclectic and diverse from your typical, classical pieces that have been done a million times before and kind of bringing a fresh face to it.

How do you think the sport has changed in the past decade?

Wagner: Technically, this sport has blown up. The men, to be competitive, you need to be doing at least three quad jumps, and I think the ladies, now everybody I feel like a decade ago there were a couple of standout skaters, and the competition was between them, but now there’s such a standard level of what competition even looks like, and there’s so many women who are at this high level of competition that it is about being perfect, and then beyond that, pushing the envelope as much as you possibly can technically. So I think that this sport has just come so far.

You spent part of your childhood up here, so how does it feel to be back?

Wagner: It’s awesome, I have my whole family coming to the event tomorrow. It’s always fun, because I’m at the point in my career where I have so many people who support me, and I feel very appreciative as an athlete, but this group of people here were the people that were here for the start. So to be able to kind of come back home and skate in front of them, it’s a really cool experience for me.

What have the audiences up here been like?

Wagner: I am always so pleasantly surprised by the Seattle audiences. I think that not a lot of people would expect for there to be a skating fan base here, but there’s actually a ton of people who really appreciate the sport, a ton of skaters up in this area, so every time I come here, I know what to expect, but a lot of the other performers in the show are always pleasantly surprised. They never really see it coming, but it’s a great audience.

In 30 seconds, what’s your elevator pitch to get people to come to the show Saturday night?

Wagner: I would say that Stars on Ice is one of the best skating shows you’re possibly going to see, come see figure skating in real life, it is absolutely unlike anything you’ve ever seen. We have tricks and backflips, triple jumps, quad jumps, all done in spandex and sparkles with cool lights and great music, so it’s a fun show, great for the family, and definitely worth checking out. 

For more information on Stars on Ice, or to purchase tickets, visit