Adam Rippon: How the First Openly Gay Olympic Figure Skater Left His Mark on The Games and Our Hearts
With good looks, dazzling talent, and personality to spare, US Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon is officially having his “moment” - and it won’t be his last.
One of my earliest childhood memories was watching the Winter Olympic games. I was sitting on the edge of my parent’s king size bed, wrapped in blankets, unable to look away from the pairs figure skating event. I was enchanted by the grace and agility; terrified by the lifts and jumps. My early obsession could only mean one of two things: I was destined to be a figure skater, or I was destined to be gay. It was the latter.
My partner, Matthew (aka “The Shirtless Violinist”) had a strikingly similar experience growing up and watching the sport on television. In Matthew’s home, TV-watching was a rare occasion reserved only for very special events like their annual screening of The Music Man, Presidential inaugrations, and —yes— the Summer and Winter Olympics. Just as I did, Matthew (and his 2 siblings) huddled together on the end of their parent’s bed to watch the figure skaters in action. “Perched like birds on a branch” Matthew says, “we sat mesmerized.”
And ever since those early childhood memories, we have both looked forward to the Winter Olympics for the same reason: Figure skating. And not just the pairs - but also the men, women, and even the ice dancers!
With all the glitz, glamour, and flashy outfits — and I’m just talking about the men — it’s almost impossible to believe that there hasn’t been an openly gay Olympic figure skater in history. Not even Johnny Weir, now a (wonderfully) sassy skating commentator, was waving his rainbow flag while he competed in the 2006 and 2010 games. Although he wore outrageous costumes and triple-axeled his way through routines set to Lady Gaga, Weir didn’t officially announce his sexuality until he released his memoir in 2011.
As a young gay man growing up in rural Canada, I was afraid to come out of the closet. And as I got older I became more self-conscious about my love of figure skating. While other boys were eagerly discussing their favorite hockey players, I was wistfully daydreaming about David Pelltier in his gold medal performance at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. And as a teen I wasn’t just a closeted gay, I was also a closeted figure skating fan!
And all the while, although my gaydar was often in overdrive while watching the sport, there was not a single openly gay Olympian in the mix. Until now.
Enter: 28-year old first time Olympian Adam Rippon from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He came up short when the team was selected for the Sochi games back in 2014, came out as gay on social media in 2015, then qualified for Pyeongchang soon after. Coincidence? Maybe not. Rippon’s message of self acceptance while simultaneously snubbing the Vice President for his stance on LGBTQ issues, is quickly (and deservedly) making him a household name.
Oh yeah - and he’s really cute, too.
God, what we would have given for an Adam Rippon in this sport a decade ago! But alas, it’s 2018 and we finally have our first openly gay Olympic athletes (lest we omit Gus Kentworthy) and —in Rippon—our first openly gay Olympic medalist! How’s that for a title?
Recently, when asked what it’s like to be a gay athlete in sports, Rippon quipped “It’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work, but usually done with better eyebrows.”
Did we mention he’s really funny, too?
If Adam Rippon isn’t the whole package, then we don’t know who is.
Matthew and I watched and cheered as Rippon performed a nearly flawless short program to the tune of “Let Me Think About It” by Ida Corr vs Fedde La Grande. As promised by Johnny Weir just before Rippon took the ice, he delivered sass, energy, and perfect white teeth. And if the gay club anthem wasn’t enough to solidify his place in our collective hearts, then channeling Meryl Streep in his post skate interview certainly did the trick.
When asked how he felt about getting social media fist bumps from A-listers across the country, Rippon didn’t skip a beat:
“Well, you know, on the spectrum from Reese Witherspoon to Elmo, I’m at —like— a Meryl Streep. Does that make sense?”
We’ll let Meryl Streep answer that question.
The following night, Matthew and I were on the edge of our seats as we watched Rippon’s final Olympic skate. Wearing a glittering green top and skating to “O” by Coldplay, Johnny Weir chimed in to inform us that Adam was portraying “a bird with a broken wing.” Never faltering, never wavering, Rippon combined strength and grace while the song lyrics filled the arena:
“Fly on, ride through. Maybe one day I can fly with you”
It was a powerful performance that surely left many viewers in tears. And when it ended and the crowd rose to their feet (and Matthew and I erupted into cheers) it wasn’t just for this final skate, but for his entire, impeccable Olympic journey. As Adam looked around and took it all in, he couldn’t help but squeeze just a little more out of the moment. Enthusiastically waving his arms to lift the crowd more and more, the cheers grew to a deafening roar.
This, ladies and gentlemen, was a moment. Not just for Adam; not just for the Olympics; not just for the LGBTQ community. But for all of us. And I got to experience it right next to my love, hand in hand. Mesmerized as the day we first watched the Winter Games as children.
But with better eyebrows.