Adam Rippon’s selection to the United States Olympic Team marks the first time an openly gay American man has qualified for any Winter Olympics. Originally from Clarks Summit, Pa., he has been based in Los Angeles for the past six years. He is coached by Rafael Arutyunyan and trains with Ashley Wagner and rival Nathan Chen.
Rippon had success early on in his career becoming the first junior man to win back-to-back world junior titles in 2008 and 2009. At 28, his skating career has soared since he came out publicly in October, 2015.
The Blade caught up with Rippon before he left on Feb. 5 to represent the United States at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The opening ceremony is tonight (Friday, Feb. 9). The games run through Feb. 25. The men’s short and free programs are Feb. 16-17.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Let’s start with the beginning of your short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships which also served as the final criteria event for selection to the U.S. Olympic team. You lined up on the side of the rink instead of the middle, struck a bitchy pose and glared at the camera. Johnny Weir called you the sass master.
ADAM RIPPON: I told my choreographer that I needed it to be in your face and fun. I also wanted it to be bitchy which is why I stared right into the camera. I practiced that look in the mirror a thousand times.
BLADE: Halfway through that same short program, you skated up to the judges and held up your finger as if to say, “Hold on, watch this.” Bold, ballsy and the crowd loved it. What was the thought process behind that move?
RIPPON: I wanted to do something that my younger competitors would be too intimidated to do and I have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team as the oldest rookie since 1936. I’m super excited.
BLADE: This was your third attempt at qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. What is it like to achieve one of your dreams?
RIPPON: To realize that goal after three attempts is incredible. I considered retiring after not making the team in 2014, but I felt I had more to give as an athlete. I would never know if I didn’t try and I have been focused on being my best.
BLADE: You have had your share of injuries including a broken foot one year ago. At Skate America in November, you dislocated your shoulder in your free skate attempting a quad lutz. You stood up, popped your shoulder back in place and landed eight triples to win the silver medal. What the hell?
RIPPON: I have been using the mentality that nothing is going to get in my way. I had dislocated my shoulder in practice a few months before and wanted to cry blood and throw up. Everyone said it wouldn’t hurt as much the second time, but they lied. After I moved it back in place I made eye contact with my coach and saw doubt. I thought, if he thinks I might stop then I am absolutely not stopping. I am going to take it one step at a time and keep going — do it three times if I have to and show those bitches.
BLADE: Right before that shoulder incident, you had a little run-in with the referee. She made you clean up bugs off the ice right before you skated. Weirdest thing ever?
RIPPON: That was one of the most bizarre things ever in an international skating competition. I had picked up a huge wasp while I was warming up because I knew if I skated over it, it was going to be crunchy. Right when I was starting my program she blew the whistle at me and called me over like she was Judge Judy. Really, are we really doing this right now? I know she doesn’t think I am going to do some rink maintenance.
BLADE: You ended up skating around with a tissue, cleaning up bugs.
RIPPON: I told her I would do it if she gave me an extra 30 seconds. That can’t ever happen again. I was trying to focus on my skate. I skated back over to my coach and he shoved me really hard which snapped me back into it. The shoulder happened next.
BLADE: You won your first U.S. national title three months after coming out in October of 2015. Since that time, your skating has been more powerful, consistent and confident. Is there a parallel?
RIPPON: Completely. My success as a skater and coming out go hand in hand. Figure skating is a performance sport and I wear my skating on my sleeve. In years past I didn’t really know who I was, so when I came out I felt like I was representing myself. The stories I was reading about other athletes coming out helped me to realize nothing was going to change. You can be an out gay athlete and be successful, even more than before.
BLADE: It’s common in elite figure skating to have adoring teenage girls watching your every move. In your case, the LGBT community has also hitched their wagon to your star. What do you think of your status as a gay icon?
RIPPON: Hitch your wagon to a star, it will take you far (laughing). Sometimes we feel unrepresented and I think it’s important to stay visible. I follow the careers of other LGBT athletes and I know that it comes with backlash. I am fully embracing all of it. I consider everyone in the community to be my brothers and sisters.
BLADE: Do you feel their presence?
RIPPON: I feel their presence. There have been so many different people coming forward to engage with me and I am comfortable with it. I’m glad that I shared my story and that it is resonating with people.
BLADE: You have said in the past that your skating outfits are an expression of your personality. Your two outfits at U.S. Nationals featured leather, sheer fabric and sparkles. Any surprises for Pyeongchang?
RIPPON: I am getting together with my costume designer, Braden Overett, to make some minor changes and Olympify them. I usually just tell him I want to skate in something slutty. It takes my mind off the competition because I can’t believe I am wearing it. It takes a village and he is one of the villagers.
BLADE: You recently shot down the rumors that you wear butt pads during your competitions with the following statement: “There’s been a lot questions to whether I compete with butt pads on and I’d like to set the record straight and let it be known that no, it’s just my real butt. Thank you for your interest, comments and concern. Love you.”
RIPPON: People were defending me saying the pads helped when I fall. I also heard things like, “What a beautiful performance, are the butt pads really necessary”? I mean c’mon, I’m wearing very thin pants out there. I thought it would be funny if I addressed it directly. Yes, I have the butt necessary to make it to the Olympics.
BLADE: Because of your sport, music must be a big part of your life. What is on your personal music playlist right now?
RIPPON: I love music. It’s something I work out to and its part of my sport. On the personal side, I like EDM (electronic dance music) — David Guetta and deadmau5. I also like all the gay staples — Beyoncé, Astrid S, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey.
BLADE: What are you hoping to take from your experience in Pyeongchang?
RIPPON: It has always been my dream to be an Olympian. I can’t wait to walk into the opening ceremonies and also to see the Olympic rings on the ice for the first time. Then it’s down to business. I’m going to zero in on what needs to be done to have the best skate of my career.
BLADE: Are you ready?
RIPPON: I am ready for this opportunity and grateful for this opportunity. I feel powerful on the inside and the outside.