Figure skater Adam Rippon, who’s earned a reputation for speaking his mind, has become the first openly gay man to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Despite a disappointing fourth-place finish at the U.S. national championships this weekend, Rippon was named to the U.S. Winter Olympics figure-skating team on Sunday morning.
“I can’t believe I am where I am today,” Rippon told reporters. “I was just a little gay kid in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Growing up I didn’t have a lot of role models. I said if I was ever given a platform and had a chance I would share my story.”
After a stellar program Thursday night, a fall and two bungled triples put Rippon in fourth Saturday night. Only three skaters are invited to join Team USA, but because of his overall record, Rippon was given a spot over 26-year-old Ross Miner, who came in second at nationals. He now joins 18-year-old Nathan Chen, 18, and 17-year-old Vincent Zhou on the men’s figure skating team. It will be the first Olympics for all three men.
Rippon came out in 2015, telling Skating magazine he wanted to send a message “to the dad out there who might be concerned that his son is a figure skater.”
“When athletes come out and say that they’re gay, it makes it a little more normal and less of a big deal—especially in the athletic community,” he added. “You have a lot of respect for your fellow athletes for working hard toward a goal. Their sexual orientation takes a backseat to that.”
I was recently asked in an interview what its like to be a gay athlete in sports. I said that it’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work but usually done with better eye brows.
— Adam Rippon (@Adaripp) December 28, 2017
Rippon says being open about who he is has made him better at his sport, which can be surprisingly heteronormative. (Even Johnny Weir didn’t come out until after his last Olympics, the 2010 Vancouver Games.)
“I don’t care what other people think about me,” Rippon said at nationals. “I’m able to go out there and be unabashedly myself. I love myself. When I’m able to go out there and really be me, I’m able to put my hard work forward. I want someone who is young and struggling and are not sure if they are themselves to know that it’s okay.”
READ THIS. Adam Rippon shared an incredibly strong message about what it would mean to him – and the greater community – if he were to get to skate at the Olympics as an openly gay man.
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) January 5, 2018
Of the 2,900 competitors representing 88 nations at the 2014 Sochi Games only seven were openly gay, and none were men. This time, it’s likely Rippon won’t be the only one.
While out luger John Fennell tragically lost his chance when the runner on his sled snapped off during a qualifying race last month, freeskier Gus Kenworthy, who came out after winning the silver at Sochi, will find out if he qualifies on January 22.
Kenworthy embraces the idea of being a trailblazer, telling Time, “I so badly want to inspire that community and do well for them. It’s fucking cool.”
Team USA members are usually invited to the White House after the Games, but Kenworthy’s already announced he wouldn’t accept an invite from 45. “I have no interest in faking support.”
While we’d respect Rippon if he made the same choice, part of us that wants to see him shade Trump face-to-face.