PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Adam Rippon is a figure skater, a first-time Olympian at the unlikely age of 28.
Adam Rippon is a superior athlete, good enough to help US figure skaters land bronze in the team event.
Adam Rippon is a gay man, out, proud, and loud of who he is.
Adam Rippon is a hilarious storyteller, telling tales of sad In-N-Out Burger binges while watching the Olympics he failed to make four years ago or remembering how he would nab the free apples from his gym to augment groceries he could barely afford.
Adam Rippon is outspoken, having publicly taken on Vice President Mike Pence over gay rights.
Adam Rippon is unafraid to speak his mind, continuing to do so as Pence has come and gone from these Olympics, aware of not becoming a distraction to teammates but undaunted in sticking to his beliefs.
Adam Rippon is supremely comfortable in his own skin, often thanking his single mom, Kelly, and his open-minded friends for fostering a world that welcomed him just the way he was.
Adam Rippon is alternately stone-cold serious and delightfully irreverent, speaking directly to gay youth who might need a role model to look up to in their own journey of discovery, or lamenting his own single status as Valentine’s Day approaches and welcoming all potential suitors.
Adam Rippon, a breakout star of the PyeongChang Olympics, is all this and more, a sum of inspirational parts that leave you resting on a time-worn expression that fits him as well as anything I can think of: It’s Adam Rippon’s world, and we’re just living in it.
“I want to get people talking,” he said Tuesday, a day after his clean, dynamic skate helped the US team land a bronze, a day before training for the individual competition begins in earnest. “What I’m looking forward to Friday is getting the rest of the world crazy about Adam Rippon.”
There’s so much to be crazy about. But if we’ve been caught by surprise by the delightful Californian by way of Scranton, Pa., then shame on us for missing out on the fun.
“I’ve always sort of been unabashedly myself, and I’ve always spoken my mind and from the heart, and you know what, I think America is just catching on,” Rippon said. “The other day I was joking to one of my friends and he was like, ‘You’re kind of everywhere right now,’ and I’m like, ‘I know, I’m America’s sweetheart.’
“He just laughed in my face. But what you think of as sort of the American people embracing, on paper, I don’t think I really embody much of any of that perceived persona. I think maybe that’s what people are latching onto.
“My story is different. I’m different. On some level we all feel different, and when we are embraced for who we are, it’s awesome.
“I know what it’s like to be a young kid and feel out of place, and 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. As soon as I was able to let go of those doubts, that’s when I was really able to find my voice.
“I hope that in the process of sharing who I am with everyone, they can find their voice, too. Honestly, it’s really fun to be yourself. It’s really fun to be me.”
But he is no joke. With such outspoken pride in his sexuality, with such a comfortable ability to share that confidence, Rippon represents the best sort of progress in our society, the ability to accept others without judgment, to celebrate others’ achievement despite our differences, to inspire others who see themselves in you.
As the first openly gay man to qualify for an American Olympic team — now joined by freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, who came out publicly after competing in the 2014 Sochi Games and qualified for this year’s Olympics — Rippon can speak not only to athletes of the future who don’t have to hide in a closet, but to those of the past whose legitimate fear of backlash forced them to stay in one.
“Me using my voice has given my skating a greater purpose,” he said. “It’s a voice to reach young kids. I’ve gotten so many messages, young kids, all over the country, that my story has resonated with them and it’s incredibly powerful, this platform you can have at the Olympic Games. That’s why it’s so important.
“In addition to the support I’ve gotten, I’ve also heard things like, ‘Adam Rippon should tone it down.’ I can’t tone it down. I’m being myself.”
That self came under fire since the original interview with USA Today columnist Christine Brennan in which Rippon expressed disappointment over Pence’s appearance at these Games, citing disagreement with Pence’s record on LGBQT issues. When Brennan further reported that Pence’s people were rebuffed in setting up a meeting with Rippon, the ensuing back-and-forth garnered national headlines.
But Rippon has held his own and held his ground, showing the necessary mettle for the role model he knows he is.
“I have no problem talking about what I’ve said, because I stand by it,” he said. “But I think right now the Olympics are about Olympic competition and the athletes involved.
“I talked to [Brennan] about how I felt before the Games and it’s brought a lot of attention, questions to my other teammates. I don’t want to distract from their Olympic experience and I don’t want my Olympic experience to be about Mike Pence.
“I want it to be about my amazing skating and being America’s sweetheart.”
It’s his world. It’s fun living in it.