By Lois Elfman
Figure skater Adam Rippon finds it hard to believe that in the year 2018 he is the first openly gay man to represent the United States at the Olympic Winter Games, but apparently that is the case. He wasn’t out there alone for long — shortly after Rippon was named to Team USA, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, a silver medalist at the 2014 Games in Sochi who publicly came out in 2015, also qualified.
Both Rippon, 28, and Kenworthy, 26, have voiced their displeasure that Vice President Mike Pence is leading the U.S. delegation. Pence was unsupportive of LGBT rights during his time as governor of Indiana. In response to Rippon’s comments, Pence’s office issued a statement saying he embraces all members of Team USA.
“I said exactly what I was thinking…and I speak with an open heart,” said Rippon. “I am trying to train for the biggest competition of my life. I’m not trying to pick a fight with the Vice President of the United States.”
It’s been a long and, at times, rough road to the Olympics for Rippon. A two-time World Junior Men’s Champion, he was considered one of the favorites for both the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games, but failed to qualify. He was on a high after winning the U.S. Senior Men’s title in 2016, but an injury kept him from defending that title in 2017.
He had a strong Grand Prix season last fall and qualified for the Grand Prix Final. Rippon came into the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on a high note, but after a strong short program he faltered in the free skate. Despite his fourth-place finish, the international committee of U.S. Figure Skating chose him for the Olympic team based on his impressive international record.
“Training for the Olympics has been a dream of mine ever since I started skating and that I’m actually training for the Olympics is kind of surreal and completely crazy,” said Rippon. “I’m trying to push myself so that I feel as prepared as possible.
“I hope that when I go out there, I can show all of the hard work I’ve put in,” he added. “I think it’s a really amazing opportunity for me to kind of show the world what I’m made of, what kind of skater I am and the kind of person I am and my story.
“Getting to the Olympics, it was about the hard work I put in over years and years of practices. My story has a lot of ups and downs. No matter how many times I’ve been down, I’ve always taken that situation and I’ve learned from it and come away stronger. As I head into these Olympic Games, I want to show the world who I really am, my authentic self.”
Rippon said he’s looking forward to three big things as his Olympic experience unfolds. The first was team processing, where members of Team USA receive their team uniforms and all the Team USA swag. The second is the Opening Ceremony. Lastly, he was anticipating his first practice on Olympic ice.
“Seeing the rings on the ice; that’s a moment I’ve been dreaming of my entire life,” he said.
Rippon arrived in PyeongChang about a week ago. He spent time at the off-site training center to acclimate and prepare for the competition. When he gets to the Olympic village and begins practicing on Olympic ice, he plans to soak in each moment.
Several members of his family will travel to PyeongChang to see him compete. Rippon is the oldest of six siblings and several of them haven’t been to any of his major championships. When it looked like his mother, Kelly Rippon, would be the only one to attend the Olympics, one of his brother’s college friends put together an online fundraiser. Now one of his brothers and one of his sisters will join their mother Korea.
“People have been so kind and generous and it means so much to me,” Rippon said.
As the figure skating gets underway, Rippon will aim to skate programs that garner standing ovations. Along the way, he will show that diversity is part of Olympic sports. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, he yearned for role models. When he got older, he promised himself he’d share his story.
“I want to be seen as somebody who opened the door for other athletes to be authentically themselves no matter who they are where they came from,” he said. “If you’ve worked really hard and put great performances together, people will respect you and you will be taken seriously.”
“I hope my legacy is I wasn’t afraid to be creative; I wasn’t afraid to make bold choices. Maybe I didn’t have the hardest program going out there, but I had a program that everybody remembered and was talking about when the competition was over.”
“I want to be out and share my story because I know that’s not a luxury that everybody else has,” he concluded. “Being out and being visible can help make the journey easier for somebody else.”
NBC will be televising the figure skating competitions live in primetime. South Korea is 14 hours ahead of the East Coast United States. The team figure skating competition gets underway on Feb. 9 (airing the evening of Feb. 8 in the U.S.). It is expected that Rippon will skate in part of that competition. The men’s event gets underway on Feb. 16.