Wagner, Cool Sports coach, is former ‘84 Olympic skater from Great Britain
Sue Jackson Wagner will be eagerly watching late-night broadcasts when the 2018 Olympic Games kick off in February, and no doubt remembering her own time in the international spotlight.
The Farragut resident, who is now an ice skating coach at Cool Sports Home of the Icearium, competed in the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo, [then known as] Yugoslavia, as Great Britain’s lone female figure skating representative.
She placed 17th among the elite few who included the sport’s gold-medal winner, Katarina Witt, from what was then East Germany.
“It is everything you have worked toward – it’s every kid’s dream, then you go out and do the best job you can,” she said.
“Children will ask me if I won any medals,” she added with a smile. “They don’t realize what an honor and achievement it is just to make it to that level.”
Growing up in Nottingham, Great Britain, Wagner first skated when a family friend introduced her to the sport at age 7.
From the very beginning “I loved it,” she said.
That same friend also bought Wagner her first pair of ice skates, but “died before he saw all that I achieved,” she said.
His early encouragement, however, and that of her parents helped Wagner to rise quickly in the ranks of figure skating. By age 11, she was competing — winning her first local matchup. Wagner worked her way through junior levels, winning the 1980 Junior Ladies National Championship, earning her first international assignment to the Junior World Championship in Ontario, Canada.
She also was British Senior Ladies Champion in 1983 and 1984.
It was in her second year as a senior level international skater that Wagner qualified for the 1984 Olympic games.
She was just 17 years old.
Wagner said the true highlight for her was the opening ceremonies.
“Walking through that tunnel, into the crowd — it is the most exceptional high of anything you can imagine,” she said. “We were a select minority. There were skiers, bobsledders, skaters — but we all walked out together as one team.”
Following the Olympics, she skated competitively for two years.
Wagner then “enjoyed an exciting performing career,” she said, traveling all over the world with Holiday on Ice, Europe; Disney’s World on Ice, and Torvill and Dean’s Ice Adventures.
Wagner even went back to competing after an 11-year hiatus. She once again competed for Great Britain, this time in the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain, where she placed fifth.
She ended up in the United States with Feld Entertainment, which owns Disney on Ice.
Wagner said Knoxville was the company’s primary rehearsal and building location for a time, which helped her become familiar with the area. She and her former husband settled in Seymour.
Now, Wagner personally coaches more than a dozen figure skaters at Cool Sports, and enjoys “being able to pass on what I have learned,” she said. “And, seeing the joy of the little children as they learn to skate means just as much to me as when my higher level students learn a new jump.”
Her pupils down through the years have included her own children: daughters, Chloe, 17, and Aimee, 15; and son, Ian, 13, all of whom attend Farragut schools.
The three have skated “by default,” Wagner said, although all have shown a keen aptitude for the sport, especially Chloe. The high school senior also coaches at Cool Sports and hopes to literally follow in her mother’s footsteps by joining a performing ice company after she graduates.
While Wagner said she would perhaps like to pursue formal choreography, or even the chance to work as an Olympic coach, for now, she is more than satisfied.
“I feel very blessed,” said Wagner. “To still be doing something that I fell in love with, and be able to pass it on to adults and children – it is more than I could have ever hoped for.”