It's been four years since Adam Rippon took the Olympics by crystal-laden storm. The witty, flamboyant 28-year-old was the first openly gay athlete to represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympics. Rippon took home a bronze medal from the figure skating team event and became a household name after declining a meeting with then U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
By the time the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships ended in Nashville, Tennesse this year, the team going to the upcoming Winter Games is the most publicly queer yet. Forget about the appearance of not one, but two, unitards in the ranks of the female skaters (oh my!).Consider that Amber Glenn, the 2021 U.S. silver medalist, identifies as bisexual and pansexual. Glenn, 22, was one of several skaters who had to withdraw from the competition because of a positive COVID test, but was still included as the ladies second alternate on the Olympic team and will be heading to Beijing in February.
Then there's the tall, bearded, handsome hottie Timothy LeDuc, who identifies as both gay and non-binary. LeDuc, 31, soared to first place in the pairs competition with partner Ashley Cain-Gribble.The now two-time national champions were also chosen for the Olympic team, so LeDuc is set to become the first openly non-binary athlete to compete in the Winter Games.
But it's the hugely popular Jason Brown that so many will be rooting for in Beijing. Brown, 27, who came out on an Instagram post last year that declared "Love wins," has long been revered for his unparalleled artistry, component excellence, and years of international experience. This season, his exquisite "Sinnerman" and "Schindler's List" programs earned him multiple medals during the Grand Prix circuit before he spent a grueling 33 hours traveling from Toronto to Nashville. Brown still managed to medal in 4th place and secure his second berth at the Olympics.
"It's been a bit nonstop since that moment," he said at the press conference following the announcement, "but a lot of tears, a lot, a lot, a lot of tears, but slowly it's sinking in."
What also seems to be sinking in is Brown's new status as gay figure skating role model. He doesn't skate these days without fans waving Pride flags, and he takes their adoration very humbly,
"For me, when I see those rainbow flags flying, it still feels like it's my way of saying thank you to the people who came before me," he said during a follow-up phone interview."For me, It's almost more about the people in the stands feeling proud and comfortable to wave the flag than it is for me personally receiving that (support)."
When asked about the reactions he's had since coming out, Brown said he has received nothing but upbeat feedback since then because of the positive circles in which he travels. When asked about advice he might give to a young athlete in a less supportive sport, Brown spoke of self-worth.
"I think one of the most important things is for the person to be comfortable and to really find that acceptance within themselves first. I really do think that is so, so key and so crucial," he said. Reflecting on his own journey of visibility, Brown mused, "It's almost like I don't want them to make it be a deal because it isn't.Do you know what I mean? It is, but it isn't.The hope, I guess, when we talk about normalizing something is that it becomes the norm. It's not something, you know, that is shocking, or something scandalous or something worth hiding."
On a less serious note, I couldn't resist getting a little dish. Any special fellas in this artistic genius' life? And just how does a top-tier professional athlete manage to, well, date?
"First offhella single!" he said with a laugh."We've been in a pandemic and I've been training for the Olympics, so very single, but definitely open for a relationship."
He continued with a bit of relationship history. "I have to be completely honest. I'm a very, very focused person, so the only times I've ever dated were the off-season!" He says he's not sure what the future holds post-Olympics 2022, but "is really looking forward to going through that relationship process…"
Finally, it wouldn't be the Olympic Games without the always uber-glam Johnny Weir. He'll be commentating as usual for NBC in Beijing, but the two-time Olympian and three-time national champion reached true legend status in January: Weir, 37, was formally inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. In the video package that preceded the award, Weir noted that receiving the highest achievement an American figure skater can attain made him feel "like it was okay to come as you are…"
In China this February, it appears that for the U.S. Figure Skating team at least, it is increasingly just fine to come as you are.