The Olympics, as they tend to do, have captured the American public’s imagination and among the U.S. stars people have seen while enjoying the Winter Games is Ashley Wagner. But while the figure skater has been in PyeongChang during the Olympics, viewers have seen her in ads, not on the ice.
A bronze medalist in the team event at the 2014 Games, Wagner was left off Team USA’s three-woman Olympic contingent after placing fourth at the U.S. championships in January, behind Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen. In the immediate aftermath of that disappointment, she lashed out at the judging, saying she was “furious” about the scores she received.
If it’s any consolation to Wagner, she was long since locked into ad campaigns that were set to air during the Olympics, including for Bridgestone and, most notably, Toyota. Some viewers have found the Toyota ad featuring the 26-year-old to be an arresting piece of artistry, but more than a few others have wondered why someone who didn’t make the U.S. team was being given such a stage.
When asked if Toyota had considered replacing Wagner with any of the athletes actually competing in the Olympics, a representative told The Post via email, “No. We believe that in sports and in life, people try, people fail, people overcome, and people succeed. It’s a journey of continuous improvement that Toyota proudly stands by.”
The company said it was “committed to supporting all” of the athletes on its endorsement roster, “whether they compete in the Olympic Games or not.” Of course, when filming for the “Thin Ice” ad began in September, Wagner was considered, as a Team USA preview of January’s nationals put it, “a near lock” to make the Olympic squad.
Bridgestone filmed its ads even earlier, in June, including the one featuring Wagner and another with the U.S. bobsled team. The company is running both during the Games, and a Bridgestone official said there was never any thought to pulling Wagner’s spots once she failed to make the team.
“We were certainly heartbroken for Ashley, as we know how much time and effort she put into trying to qualify for another Olympic Winter Games,” Phil Pacsi, a Sports and Events Marketing executive for Bridgestone, told The Post via email. “But we remain incredibly proud to support her and her journey, and she continues to be a great ambassador for our company as a member of Team Bridgestone.
“She is still and will always be an Olympian who has been on the Olympic podium. That is something that should be celebrated.”
Wagner was tabbed to be the first alternate for the Olympic team, compelling her to continue training exercises through January, in case Tennell, Nagasu or Chen became injured or in any way unable to compete. Alternates don’t usually travel to the sites of the Olympics, missing the Opening Ceremonies and flying there after the Games begin if pressed into service (as was the case in 2006, when Emily Hughes replaced the injured Michelle Kwan in Turin).
However, Wagner, who also has endorsement deals with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, and Zico coconut water (per Sports Business Daily), had more than enough media and sponsor obligations to make it worth her while to go to PyeongChang. She has taken the opportunity to attend the skating events, often tweeting out praise or critical commentary, as well as other events, such as Chloe Kim’s “insane” win in the snowboard halfpipe.
“I’m not here as the alternate,” she told Cosmopolitan last week. “I am the alternate, but I am here in Korea working — that’s what brought me to the Games.”
“I’m in a position where I was the top U.S. lady for, you know, a solid amount of time,” said Wagner, whose publicists declined to make her available to The Post for an interview. “When I look at the Olympic stage I know that I’m good enough to be there, but based on how everything kind of happened, it just wasn’t my time to be at this Games. So, I can accept that and I am so excited for my teammates. I mean, these are my friends and family, essentially. I grew up with these people.”
Wagner is particularly close to Adam Rippon, who became a breakout star for his humor and enthusiasm while helping the United States win bronze in the team event, as Wagner had done four years earlier in Sochi. In a recent interview with Yahoo Sports, she was asked how it felt to watch Rippon “from the stands instead of on the ice.”
“I think that this Olympics definitely is bittersweet,” Wagner replied.
Viewers of the Olympics are also having mixed feelings regarding Wagner’s presence, a result of the way her sponsors have stuck by her. When her ads were filmed, it’s likely that everyone involved expected her to be a major presence at the Games, and she has been — just not on the ice.
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