Adam Rippon becomes first openly gay U.S. athlete to qualify for Winter Olympics

The figure skater has officially made the team for PyeongChang, but his nomination wasn't without controversy.

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 04:  Adam Rippon reacts after finishing his routine in the Championship Men Short Program during Day 2 of the 2018 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at SAP Center at SAP Center on January 4, 2018 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 04: Adam Rippon reacts after finishing his routine in the Championship Men Short Program during Day 2 of the 2018 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at SAP Center at SAP Center on January 4, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

On Sunday morning 28-year-old Adam Rippon was officially named to the U.S. Winter Olympics figure skating team, despite his disappointing fourth-place finish at the U.S. national championships on Saturday night. Chaos and controversy aside, it was a historic announcement: Rippon is the first openly gay U.S. athlete to ever qualify for the Winter Olympics.

Rippon didn’t shy away from talking about how much the moment means to him and the LGBTQ community.

“I think in this day and age, it’s so important for you to be proud of who you are. I can’t believe I am where I am today. I was just a little gay kid in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania,” Rippon told reporters this week. “Growing up I didn’t have a lot of role models. I said if I was ever given a platform and had a chance I would share my story.”

Rippon likely won’t be making LGBTQ history alone in PyeongChang, Freestyle skiier Gus Kenworthy, who came out in 2015, over a year after winning a gold medal in Sochi, is expected to join Rippon when the freestyle skiing team is announced on January 22. A third openly gay athlete, John Fennell, was hoping to make it to South Korea next month, but Fennell’s sled crashed in his final luge qualifying run last month and he didn’t make the team.

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Rippon almost experienced similar heartbreak. After a phenomenal short program on Thursday night put him in second place, he was riding high; however, on Saturday night he fell on his opening quad jump in his free skate and botched two triples late in the program, which left him in fourth place, with only three skaters allowed to make the trip to PyeongChang. However, because Rippon has a much stronger international resume than Ross Miner, who won second place at nationals after performing arguably the best free skate of his career, he was named to the team. Rippon joins national champion Nathan Chen, an 18-year-old American phenom who landed five quad jumps in his free skate and is a strong contender for the gold medal at the Olympics; and bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, a 17-year-old who many believe is the future of the sport. This will be the first Olympics for all three men.

While openly LGBTQ women from other countries have competed in the Winter Olympics in the past, Rippon (and likely Kenworthy) will reportedly be the first openly gay men to compete in the Winter Games. According to Outsports, the first openly gay male to compete for Team USA in any Olympics was equestrian Robert Dover, who came out in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics. Dover went to his last Olympics in 2004, and since then, there hasn’t been another openly gay male athlete on any U.S. Olympic team, summer or winter.

Rippon embraces his role as a trailblazer, and thinks that being open about who he is has made him better at his sport. He hopes that he can inspire others along the way.

“I think that’s made me a better competitor. I don’t care what other people think about me. I’m able to go out there and be unabashedly myself. I love myself,” he said at nationals. “When I’m able to go out there and really be me, I’m able to put my hard work forward. I want someone who is young and struggling and are not sure if they are themselves to know that it’s OK.”