BOSTON -- Two-time defending U.S. figure skating champion Ashley Wagner, a medal hopeful for next month's Winter Olympic Games, has become the conscience of the U.S. Olympic team – and perhaps the Games themselves.
After speaking out against Russia's anti-gay law last fall, Wagner said in an interview Tuesday that she "absolutely" plans to continue talking about her opposition to the controversial law when in Sochi, presuming she makes the U.S. team this week, and is looking into options such as wearing "rainbow nails (and) rainbow earrings" while competing.
"This is the opportunity for this Olympics to be groundbreaking," Wagner, 22, said after a practice at the venerable Skating Club of Boston.
Asked if she will talk about the law at her news conferences at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Wagner didn't hesitate for a moment:
"Absolutely," she said. "It's something that I feel strongly about and I'm never one to not say what I'm thinking. I just speak my mind. It's something I can't stay quiet about. If it's my opinion, I'm going to say it."
She said she was even more emboldened about speaking out after hearing the news that President Obama was sending three openly-gay athletes in the official U.S. delegation to the opening and closing ceremonies: tennis legend Billie Jean King, Olympic figure skating gold medalist Brian Boitano and two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow.
"I am so incredibly proud to be representing a country now who is really taking a stance," she said. "I was a little bit worried for awhile because it felt like we were dodging the question and no one was really standing up for something that I feel, that so many feel so strongly about. So to have a great delegation going into the Olympics, I just feel that there is more support against the anti-gay law now openly and that's something that I am very happy to hear."
The new Russian law criminalizes "homosexual propaganda," making public displays that promote gay rights, including hand-holding, punishable by up to two weeks in prison. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said the Games will be "free of discrimination" for athletes and visitors to Sochi. Still, confusion reigns about what athletes can and cannot do.
Last fall at a media summit of Olympic hopefuls, Wagner set herself apart from almost all of her peers when she offered these thoughts:
"For me, I have gay family members, and I have a lot of friends in the LGBT community. ... I have such a firm stance on this that we should all have equal rights."
A bit later, she continued the conversation with USA TODAY Sports' Kelly Whiteside:
"I think growing up in skating, I was surrounded by the LGBT community, so I grew up very aware because I was around it so often, and some of the kindest people I know are gay figure skaters. At the end of the day I'm an athlete, and that's what I'm focused on. But I felt that too many people are quiet and they're not comfortable sharing their opinion, and it's just my opinion."
Alpine skier and four-time Olympian Bode Miller joined Wagner last fall in expressing contempt for the law:
"I think it's so embarrassing that there's countries and people who are that ignorant," he said. "As a human being, I think it's embarrassing."
Wagner said this week that she still is uncertain what she will do if and when she gets to Sochi, but she's spending time thinking about it. "I feel that (Olympic officials) are going to be very lenient when it comes to anything like rainbow nails, rainbow earrings, something like that."
Last fall, before King was named to the U.S. opening ceremony delegation, she talked about the lack of activism among athletes these days. Referring to the U.S. track star who was expelled from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics for protesting racial discrimination, King said, "Sometimes I think we need a John Carlos moment."
And I think we now know who just might provide it.