Adam Rippon Is U.S.’s First Openly Gay Man To Qualify For Winter Olympics

Adam Rippon, the first openly gay man to qualify for the U.S. Winter Olympics team, competes during the 2018 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif.

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Adam Rippon, a 28-year-old figure skater, will be the first openly gay man to compete for the United States in the Winter Olympics.

Despite a disappointing fourth-place performance at the U.S. figure skating championships Saturday night, Rippon was selected to join Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou in Pyeongchang next month.

“I’m really grateful that the selection committee looked at my body of work over the last two seasons,” Rippon told reporters on Sunday.

The committee’s decision wasn’t without controversy. Rippon’s selection edged out Ross Miner, who placed second in the national championship. U.S. Figure Skating President Sam Auxier said the athletes’ track records in international competitions were a deciding factor.

But for Rippon, who was the U.S. national champion in 2016, the road to Pyeongchang has been a long one. This year will be the 28-year-old’s Olympic debut — more than 80 years since an American man his age competed as a rookie, according to The Washington Post.

“I don’t really care what other people think of me. I’m able to go out there and I’m really able to be unabashedly myself,” he said. “I want somebody who’s young, who’s struggling, who’s not sure if it’s OK if they are themselves to know that it’s OK.”

And depending on how the roster for the U.S. ski team shapes up, Rippon may end up sharing his historic moment.

U.S. freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy came out publicly in 2015, a year after he took silver in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Kenworthy will find out later this month whether he heads to Pyeongchang.

A third gay athlete, luger John Fennell, had also been vying for a spot on Team USA, but a sled malfunction slashed his chance at qualifying in December.

Figure skater Johnny Weir faced speculation about his sexuality while competing in 2006 and 2010, but he avoided questions on the matter. In 2011, he publicly confirmed that he was gay in his memoir, Welcome to My World.

Despite the gain in LGBTQ representation this winter, the Olympics contend with a dearth of openly queer athletes. The U.S. hasn’t sent an openly gay man to the Summer Olympics in 14 years — since equestrians Robert Dover and Guenter Seidel competed in 2004.

But come February, a global audience will get the chance to know Rippon, who’s built a reputation as an unapologetic, highly entertaining skater.

“A few weeks ago, I was asked in an interview … what was it like being a gay athlete in sports. And I said it’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Only with better eyebrows,” Rippon said.