“I didn’t want to stir the pot,” Wagner wrote. “I didn’t want to add anything to my career that would make me seem undesirable or dramatic. I didn’t want to be known in figure skating as the athlete who would cause trouble.”
In May, Bridget Namiotka, 29, who was Coughlin’s skating pairs partner when she was in her midteens and he was 18 to 21, became the first person to publicly say Coughlin had sexually abused her. She made the accusation in Facebook postings and in an online interview with The Kansas City Star.
“I’m sorry but John hurt at least 10 people including me,” Namiotka wrote on Facebook, without naming anyone else. “He sexually abused me for 2 years.”
While Coughlin and Namiotka trained together, they lived for a time at the home of Namiotka’s parents in West Chester, Pa. They also dated each other, which is not uncommon for pairs skaters. But Namiotka told The Kansas City Star, “He did sexually abuse me for two years. He was four years older than me.”
There are, of course, many well-adjusted competitors in skating, a sport of highly creative people who perform at the intersection of athleticism and artistry. But it also costs tens of thousands a dollars a year, and skaters often move away from home at a young age to train. The best compete around the world. And they can feel extreme pressure — internally and from parents — to chase a prize that is available to only a handful of skaters every four years: an Olympic gold medal.
Age differences between male and female pairs partners are especially common. The event involves lifting and throwing the woman high into the air. Women tend to be young while the men, who need strength to hoist their partners, tend to be older.
For Coughlin and Namiotka to be living at her parents’ house, competing in a pressured environment and having a relationship was an “accepted model” of the sport at the time, though it might seem inappropriate today, said Gabriel Ross-Nash, a former skater and a friend of Coughlin’s.