As he skated timidly onto the ice during his last skate of the Olympics, 28-year-old Adam Rippon flashed a bright smile at the judges, took a deep breath and readied himself for what he described as one of the greatest moments of his life.
Rippon is the first openly gay figure skater to compete at the Olympics, and he officially came out in 2015. After his coming out, Rippon said in an interview with NBC sports, “I want to be a relatable example, and I want to say something to the dad out there who might be concerned that his son is a figure skater. I mean look at me; I’m just a normal son from small-town Pennsylvania. Nothing changed. I’d just like to be a good role model. I’ve been honest with myself the whole time. I worked hard and loved what I did.”
Rippon’s coming out was not the only milestone in his journey to the Olympics. In 2013, Rippon moved to California and was destitute, according to Sports Illustrated. What little money Rippon had he spent on a gym membership to continue growing as an athlete. Often, he would take the apples laid out for gym members because he did not have enough money for groceries, according to a Twitter post from Rippon.
A year ago, Rippon broke his foot and was afraid his injury would prohibit him from qualifying for the 2018 Olympics. However, Rippon focused on healing and was able to compete and qualify, making his Olympic debut more inspirational to his followers.
Despite placing tenth in the individual male’s figure skating competition at the Olympics, Rippon’s performance and personality resonated with millions of people who appreciated seeing someone so unashamedly willing to show their true colors when given a platform as large as the Olympics.
Rippon’s performance started trending on Twitter the day of his competition, and afterward, he garnered the support of celebrities such as Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and Brittany Spears, not to mention other faithful fans who shared their voices and support through social media.
NBC was also impressed with Rippon, his following and his flamboyant personality. So impressed, in fact, that they offered him a correspondent position after his performance. Rippon turned them down because he wanted to experience the Olympics fully as an athlete.
Many Olympic followers saw Rippon as an inspiration, specifically members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Former John Brown University student and member of the LGBTQ+ community Mo Tester said, “I think representation matters so much. To know there were children, youth and adults around the world watching someone who identifies like they identify succeeding in such incredible ways has a way of changing lives and instilling hope.”
Mo continued, “We don’t often get to see athletes be so openly gay and embrace their sexuality in such a positive way, and I think that’s what made Adam stand out like he did. He showed people you don’t have to hide who you are in order to succeed at doing what you love.”
August Glover, history major at the University of Arkansas and member of the LGBTQ+ community agrees with Tester. “I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that being gay doesn’t stop us from being people who can be successful,” Glover said. “Like Adam, I’m sure, I was convinced that if I came out, my life was going to go to shatter immediately and nobody would support me, but seeing gay idols is what pushed me to realize I can do anything despite my sexuality.”
“Putting it into context, a straight person’s success is almost never a result or consequence of being straight anyway. I think Adam is representing open sexuality because he has a right to and because it’s his platform, just like any other rape survivor or child hunger advocate could choose to do,” Glover said.
Tester said Rippon’s performance may help shape the future of athletics for people in the LGBTQ+ community. “Simply put, I think when we as a larger audience see someone from a marginalized community succeed, more people from that community will feel safe to step out and succeed. I look forward to seeing more and more openly gay athletes take center stage and pursue their dreams,” Tester said.
Glover also said that Rippon is helping break norms and open avenues for LGBTQ+ athletes. “I definitely think he has taken a big step & opened some doors,” Glover said. “The fact that Adam qualified for the Olympics in the first place is what I think made the most difference. I just don’t think his performance is a result of him being gay or that he was put in the Olympics because he was gay.”
Resident of Prosper, Texas Seth Davidson said that though “Rippon has become a role model for young gay kids to be themselves regardless of the sport they want to participate in.” Davidson does not “think he has impacted all sports. Figure skating has the reputation of being more effeminate and people expect the male skaters to be gay whether they are or not. Until someone is openly gay in sports like football, hockey or baseball then we won’t see any change. Gus Kenworthy has impacted openness in sports more than Rippon because skiing is a more masculine sport.”
Rippon continues to gain attention after the Olympics and continues to speak on behalf of marginalized people. Rippon thanks his fans over Twitter quite often, and his response to those who did not support him or criticized him during his Olympic debut was simple. According to People magazine, Rippon said, “Haters are just fans in denial.”