Everyone Hates Ashley Wagner, Because Figure Skating Fans Need to Hate Someone
In a way, it was bound to happen. First, Ashley Wagner indirectly caused controversy at the National Championships when she was selected to represent the U.S., even though she finished behind Mirai Nagasu, who was left behind as the blonde skater headed to Sochi. Then, she made a whole legion of Internet bloggers' days when a low score during the team competition led her to make an oh-so-GIF-able face — which she repeated after her short program's score failed to live up to her expectations. But then, after appearing gracious when she finished sixth in the ladies' figure skating competition in Sochi, Ashley Wagner told reporters she was "gypped." A seemingly sore loser attitude has all but sealed the deal for the 22-year-old skater: Everyone hates Ashley Wagner.
Following her interview with Yahoo! Sports, reactions from sports fans started flooding in. Though some of them most definitely had a point — the term "gypped" is an offensive one, equating some form of theft with Gypsies — the others appear to be pile-ons for the sake of fun. Even now, an entire 24 hours after Wagner's sixth place finish and subsequent interviews, skating fans are flooding Twitter to call out the skater:
No, May Jordan, you are definitely not alone. Even the media has gotten in on the fun, with BuzzFeed publishing an article countering Wagner's claim, pointing to Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir's Olympic commentary, which outlined that Wagner's free skate was "going to lose a lot of points" and "wasn't a flying endorsement of Ashley Wagner." The article has only continued to rile up the Internet, which has taken to posting and tweeting the site's take-down.
The reaction is not surprising, but not just because Wagner appeared to be courting it. But because our figure skating-watching nation needs it. We've been primed to see the drama in the subjective Olympic sport since Nancy Kerrigan wondered loudly why she had to suffer a blow to the knee prior to the 1994 Olympics. After the injury heard around the world, there was sudden vilification of Kerrigan, who, following Oksana Baiul's win, wondered if the gold medalist was "going to cry again." Then, in 2002 came the introduction of the Sarah Hughes vs. Sasha Cohen feud, escalated when the latter skater stole Hughes' parking spot, seemingly in an attempt to psych her out at the National Championships. (The very same year, Canada's Jamie Salé and David Pelletier became darlings even in the states when they were cheated out of a gold medal by the, of course, villainous Russian skaters Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.)
And then comes the 2014 Olympics, which saw three skating controversies in its two weeks in play: Not only did Canada cry foul following Meryl Davis and Charlie White's ice dancing win, but fans of silver medalist Yuna Kim are petitioning against her loss to Russia's Adelina Sotnikova. Add to that an unflattering interview with Wagner, and one thing becomes obvious: We're obsessed with figure skating drama.
Of course, it's one of the only winter sports in the Olympics that allow us to feed into the drama frenzy. The judging, costumes, and backstories are just primed for discussion centering on the skaters, who, unlike other Olympic competitors, demand the spotlight for a solid four-and-a-half minutes. So the spotlight is what they get — along with mounds of ink. There's also the unfortunate perception of ice skating as a "female" sport, and the unfortunate perception that anything "female" also courts in-fighting and bitchery. Unlike snowboarders or skiers (who are also in a judged sport), female skaters constantly have to check their attitudes — after all, a competitive, unladylike spirit will only pop you right into villain zone.
And, as we've seen, figure skating villainy gets skaters nowhere. Tonya Harding — a real, legitimate figure skating villain — was doomed to a Celebrity Boxing existence, while Sasha Cohen was relegated to silver, and, now, Wagner didn't even get onto the podium. In fact, the only person attitude ever worked for was 2006 gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko, whose "confidence" helped him beat the pack... until he was bested by nice guy Evan Lysacek in 2006. Could be that these figure skating villains simply didn't skate as well as our Olympic heroes... but can you really discount the extra push crowd love gives skaters?
It's unfortunately, really — Wagner entered the Olympics with figure skating fans thinking she didn't deserve a spot on the team, and left the Olympics with figure skating fans hoping she'll never get a spot on the team again. She might be a sore loser, but the press surrounding Wagner gives her little choice but to become 2018's villain. And we wouldn't have it any other way. Because, quite simply, hate is our national pastime much more than skating itself.