PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) – He’s 28, which is awfully old for a figure skater in the Olympics.
That might have been the storyline on Adam Rippon at this Olympics, and it’s not a bad hook. The last time a figure skater so old made his Olympic debut was 1936, when NBC was just a radio network and the skating took place outdoors.
But Adam Rippon is unlike any figure skater you know. And Adam Rippon loves to talk.
Too much and too loudly for some people, who don’t like his message or his style. They’re the ones who talk back to him on social media, saying they hope he takes a big fall when it matters most.
Still, Adam Rippon talks.
About being gay and being a skater. About double cheeseburgers and tears under a night sky.
About being so broke a few years ago he lived at times on apples that he “appropriated” from a gym.
And, of course, about Vice President Mike Pence – and anyone else who Rippon believes wants to trample LGBT rights.
Mostly, though, Rippon talks about being himself, and how he happily embraces a world that doesn’t always embrace him back.
“Honestly, it’s really fun to be yourself,” Rippon said Tuesday. “It’s really fun to be me.”
Right now, it’s a blast. Rippon already has a bronze medal after putting on a scintillating performance in the team competition Monday, and he returns to the ice Friday convinced he has a shot in the individual men’s event.
He goes to press conferences where microphones are put in front of his face, happy to answer any question.
“I’ve always spoken my mind and from the heart,” Rippon said. “I think America’s just catching up. The other day I was joking to one of my friends and he was like, you’re kind of everywhere now. I said, ‘I know, I’m like America’s sweetheart.'”
Rippon became the first openly gay figure skater to make the U.S. team, and he joked Tuesday about finding a new flame for Valentine’s Day.
It’s the same sense of humor he uses to approach everything in his life, even here, where the stakes are the highest and any lapse in concentration means the difference between standing on the medal podium and going home empty handed.
“It might come off as cocky, but I’ve been through a lot in my life. I’ve used my sense of humor as a coping tool. It’s gotten me through a lot of challenging times.”
It was needed six years ago when he lived in the basement of his coach, Rafael Arutunian, and took the apples because he had to spend what little money he had on a gym membership. It was badly needed when he was left off the Olympic team four years ago, and he and women’s skater Mirai Nagasu shed tears while sitting on the roof of her house eating In-N-Out burgers as others competed in Sochi.
Now they’re both Olympic medalists – Nagasu was part of the team performance – with the possibility of more to come.
“To think yesterday we shared an Olympic podium together, its serendipity,” Rippon said. “I keep telling her, can you believe we’re at the Olympics and we’re roommates? After where we were four years ago it’s too weird, but it’s so cool. So, so cool.”
His spat with Pence – Rippon said he had no interest in meeting the vice president when he visited the Olympics because of his record on gay rights – was a big story. Rippon hasn’t backed off the comments, though he said he didn’t want them to define his Olympic experience.
His Twitter feed is so crowded with comments – both pro and con – that he can’t get on it. But he doesn’t just want to be defined as a gay skater – he and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy are the only two openly gay US athletes here – but rather as an Olympic medalist who is gay.
“I’m not a gay Olympian. I’m just an Olympian,” Rippon said. “And now I’m an Olympic medalist and I happen to be gay. It has nothing to do with how I got here. It does help to have nice eyebrows, though.”
There was the humor again, though Rippon does have a serious message from these games. It comes from the messages he gets from young gay people back home who – still in the closet – are scared and take comfort in his stance and his words.
“I know what it’s like to be a young kid and feel out of place,” he said. “To want to share your ideas and feel like people might not like them. I spent a lot of time worrying what people thought of me and soon as I was able to let go of those doubts, that’s when I was able to find my voice. I hope that in the process of me sharing who I am with everyone, that they can find their voice too.”