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Volunteers put the finishing touches to the look of the finish area of the alpine skiing at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
U.S. figure skater Wagner likes Sochi’s rainbow hues
First Published Feb 05 2014 09:12 am • Last Updated Feb 07 2014 04:51 pm

Sochi, Russia • Ashley Wagner sees a certain resemblance between the multihued designs all around the Sochi Olympics and a rainbow gay pride flag.

The American figure skater has been one of the most outspoken athletes against Russia’s so-called gay "propaganda" law, and she couldn’t help but mention to reporters Wednesday her amusement at the brightly colored graphics at Olympic venues.

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"I love it," she said with a smile.

The two-time national champion carries herself with an easy self-assurance off the ice. On the ice, that confidence suddenly went missing at last month’s U.S. Championships.

She fell twice in her free skate to finish a distant fourth, and only three skaters would go to the Sochi Games. U.S. Figure Skating officials added her to the team over third-place Mirai Nagasu because of her accomplishments over the previous year, but it was hardly the way Wagner wanted to go into her first Olympics.

She had less than four weeks to Sochi, time for some drastic changes.

Wagner replaced the music in her free skate, scrapping "Romeo and Juliet" for "Samson and Delilah," which she used last year.

"This is the program that raises the hair on my arms," she said.

She just couldn’t relate to the Juliet character.

"I’m so passionate about skating, and I just can’t imagine a single person in my life making me go that crazy for them," Wagner said. "She just seemed a little bit irrational to me."

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Juliet is "delicate and soft and sweet."

"And I am not a sweet competitor," Wagner added. "I’m vicious. I can be nice off the ice, but on the ice, that’s not where it’s time to make friends."

Her training needed an overhaul, too. Before, she would let coach Rafael Arutyunyan know when she had reached her limit in practice.

Now, she told him, "You know what? I’m yours. Tell me what to do. I’ll do everything you want me to do. Just make me someone who’s worthy of being at the Olympics."

The result, Wagner said, "was the most miserable three weeks of my life."

Her real training wouldn’t even start until she was already exhausted from running through parts of her program. At the U.S. Championships, her legs had felt dead when she took the ice; the goal was to learn how to still excel under those conditions.

Wagner also lost about three pounds, closer to her weight last year, a small change that can make a big difference in landing jumps.

She’ll find out Saturday whether she’s back to being the skater who won bronze at the Grand Prix Final in December. Wagner is preparing to compete in the short program in the team competition.

She said she hadn’t experienced any backlash since she arrived in Sochi over her past comments about the Russian law, which bans pro-gay "propaganda" that could be accessible to minors. Activists view the measure as forbidding most public expressions of gay-rights sentiment.

Wagner vowed to keep speaking out at the Olympics.

"It doesn’t really matter where I am," she said. "It’s still my opinion."

Simply put: "I just believe in equality for all."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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