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    Adam Rippon wants Mike Pence spat to take back seat to Olympics

    FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2018, file photo, Adam Rippon performs during the men's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif. Rippon remains open to speaking with Mike Pence over the vice president’s conservative stance on gay rights after the Pyeongchang Olympics. The openly gay Rippon criticized the White House last month for choosing Pence to lead the official U.S. delegation for the Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, opening ceremony. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
    Adam Rippon has turned down opportunities to meet with Vice President Mike Pence.

    GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Adam Rippon doesn’t want his monthlong dispute with Mike Pence over the vice president’s record on gay rights to overshadow his long-awaited Olympic performance.

    Or those of the rest of the American team.

    One of two openly gay US athletes at the PyeongChang Games, Rippon criticized the White House last month for choosing Pence to lead its official delegation for Friday’s Cpening Ceremony.


    Pence has been considered an opponent of the LGBT community after the conservative vice president signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act while serving as governor of Indiana.

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    Critics say the legislation encourages discrimination against gay people.

    ‘‘I don’t want to make this too much for my competitors and for my teammates,’’ Rippon said after an afternoon practice session Thursday. ‘‘I’m just kind of focused on the competition. The Opening Ceremony is tomorrow. I don’t mind talking about it but I don’t want to distract my teammates.’’

    Pence, who arrived in Seoul on Thursday, also tried to bury the story. He tweeted to Rippon: ‘‘I want you to know we are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ‘em!’’

    Rippon’s practice session ended before Pence’s tweet, but his mother, Kelly Rippon, told CNN she objected to the vice president calling the story ‘‘fake news.’’


    ‘‘When people keep saying that word, ‘fake news,’ over and over again it implies that you can do things and you can never be held accountable for them because you just say that it’s fake,’’ Kelly Rippon said. ‘‘That repetition of that term I don’t think is good.’’

    What Rippon jokingly referred to as ‘‘brouhaha’’ began with an interview with USA Today last month in which he called Pence, among other things, a hypocrite for espousing Christian virtues while standing by some of the divisive and inflammatory statements made by President Donald Trump.

    ‘‘If he’s OK with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries,’’ Rippon said, ‘‘I think he should really go to church.’’

    Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, was quick to respond with a sharp rebuke. Farah said in a statement that some of Rippon’s statements were ‘‘totally false’’ and had ‘‘no basis in fact,’’ including an assertion he made that Pence once championed gay conversion therapy.

    Their spat took another twist this week when USA Today, citing unnamed sources, said Pence had requested to speak with Rippon in mid-January but the skater turned down his overtures. A White House official told reporters traveling with Pence to South Korea that his office did reach out to the US Olympic Committee but was offering to meet with Rippon but also wanted to give him space.


    The vice president’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, also reached out to USOC executive Scott Blackmun after Rippon’s initial criticism last month, a White House official said.

    Rippon did not address any of the olive branches Thursday, but he again said he has no interest in meeting with Pence until after the Olympics. The 28-year-old American will debut Monday in the free skate portion of the team event.