Nation & World

About Adam Rippon: How the unabashedly gay rookie Olympian became a media darling

Among the interesting facts about Adam Rippon: He’s the oldest male figure skater on Team USA this year. He is also the oldest figure skater to make his first trip to the Olympics since 1939, according to Fortune.
Among the interesting facts about Adam Rippon: He’s the oldest male figure skater on Team USA this year. He is also the oldest figure skater to make his first trip to the Olympics since 1939, according to Fortune. AP

The Winter Olympics have made instant celebrities of several American athletes, but only one has publicly mixed it up with the vice president of the United States.

That would be Adam Rippon.

Fierce on social media and unafraid to speak his mind, Rippon is a favorite of fans and media alike in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Just the other day on his Instagram, where he has nearly 300,000 followers, he spilled the behind-the-scenes story of his GQ photo shoot ... in front of a bush ... in a Kohl’s parking lot ... in the light of the nearby Taco Bell.

The 28-year-old Pennsylvania native is a quote machine.

After his performance in the long program of the team competition that helped Team USA win a bronze medal, he exuberantly proclaimed: “Now I’m actually an Olympian! They have the footage!”

Rippon will begin his run for an individual medal with the men’s short program, to be televised Thursday.

So who is this rookie Olympian who believes in the “hocus pocus” of healing crystals and loves chocolate. And why was he stealing apples at his gym?

1. He comes from a big family in Scranton, Penn. His mother, Kelly, is a hypnotherapist and life coach. His father, Rick, runs a company that provides online training to police departments, fire departments, and EMS organizations in Pennsylvania.

Rippon is the oldest of six children and has shared photos of his family online.

 

My real mother is also my drag mother #TBT

A post shared by Adam Rippon (@adaripp) on

 

Rippon brothers giving a lot

A post shared by Adam Rippon (@adaripp) on

2. He had health issues early in life. According to NBC, he was born with an eye infection and nearly totally deaf. Both were corrected before his first birthday. He also survived a severe respiratory condition and his appendix burst when he was 5.

3. He loves Pennsylvania — and chocolate. “I like to come as often as I can, because my family still lives in Pennsylvania,” he told PennLive.com last year. “I always like to go to Hershey and to go to (Hershey’s) Chocolate World. A few of my favorite things in Pennsylvania are Tastykake and, from my area specifically, Gertrude Hawk, which is a chocolate company.

“There are a few things I always love to do when I come home and it’s all beside the fact that I like to see all my cousins and my brothers and sisters.”

4. His mom gave him his first skates. He was 10 and he got them for his birthday. “I was just so excited because I felt like a real figure skater at that point with my black skates. I wasn’t renting the skates, and I felt free,” he told PennLive.

“At that point, I was probably skating about four times a week for maybe an hour or two. And then that started changing slowly. I started skating five days and then about six, and then it was about two hours in the morning (and) two hours in the afternoon.

“And, by the time I was 13, I started going out (for training) in Philadelphia ... I would go up to (Philadelphia) about two or three times a week.

He started thinking that skating could be his “job” when he was 13, he said. “Maybe, one day, like in that ‘Stars on Ice’ show that I had watched in Wilkes-Barre, maybe I can be in that day,” he said.

5. He trains out of Los Angeles. He trains with, and competes against, gold medal hopeful Nathan Chen. The training life was rough at first.

“A little over 5 years ago, I moved to California. I was broke AF, to the point where the little money I did have, I used to join the gym,” Rippon tweeted earlier this month.

Sometimes, when he was short on money, he “would steal all the apples they had out for all the gym members.”

But just look at him now.

“It wasn’t easy and there have been ups and downs along the way, but as I’m now zipping my suitcases on my way to the Olympics, I can’t help but remember what it took to get where I am today,” he wrote in a later tweet.

6. Close but no team jacket. He missed out on qualifying for both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. He and fellow skating teammate Mirai Nagasu, who are both competing on Team USA this year, both failed to make the team four years ago. “We were eating In-N-Out because we were so upset we weren’t at the Olympic games,” he told NBC.

7. He is the oldest male figure skater on Team USA this year. He is also the oldest figure skater to make his first trip to the Olympics since 1939, according to Fortune.

8. A role model in the making. According to most accounts, he came out as gay in 2015 in Skating magazine.

“I want to be a relatable example,” he told NBC. “Being gay is not something that defines me. What defines me is what my mom always taught me: to treat everyone with respect, to always be a hard worker and to be kind.”

9. He’s got a new BFF in fellow Olympian Gus Kenworthy. Rippon and freestyle skier Kenworthy are among 14 openly LGBT athletes from around the world at Pyeongchang — the highest number for any Winter Olympics ever.

There are only two openly gay athletes on Team USA.

Hello, world.

10. About those Olympic condoms. The Pyeongchang games reportedly broke a record for most condoms to be distributed at a Winter Games — 110,000, about 37 condoms for each athlete. But didn’t impress Rippon.

“Like, I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting. I thought maybe they’d have like Olympic rings on them or they’d be all different colors, but, no. It’s all a myth,” he said in an Instagram story posted Saturday. “And I’m not, like, upset. I’m disappointed.”

He waxed philosophical about the prophylactics.

“It’s alright,” he said. “Life isn’t always what it seems and sometimes the condoms are just generic. And sometimes they’re not only just generic, sometimes they’re only available at the polyclinic outside the gym. And that’s okay.”

11. He’s “at war with Mike Pence.” Last month USA Today’s Christine Brennan asked Rippon his thoughts on Pence, who led the U.S. delegation to South Korea.

“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it,” he said.

He said he didn’t want to meet Pence, whom he said had “gone out of his way” to not befriend a gay person.

“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” he said. “To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory.”

Game on.

Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, shot back, claiming Rippon’s remarks had “no basis in fact” and called the accusation “totally false.”

Rippon responded, tweeting quotes from Pence to “let the VP’s words speak for themselves.”

According to ABC News, in a 2000 statement on his congressional campaign website concerning the Ryan White Care Act, Pence said: “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Gay-rights activists have interpreted that to be Pence’s support for gay conversion therapy. During the 2016 election campaign, a spokesman said Pence does not support the concept.

USA Today reported that Rippon’s comment bothered Pence so much that the vice president reached out to meet with the athlete. Rippon said he declined the invitation.

And on and on it went.

Pence’s reps denied that the vice president reached out to Rippon. But the athlete’s agent, David Baden, confirmed they were “contacted by the appropriate channels that the vice president wanted to talk to Adam.”

Pence fired off a couple of tweets, one of which said: “@Adaripp 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!”

At a press conference on Tuesday, Rippon told reporters he stood by his comments on Pence but just wants to focus on his skating now.

“I talked to you about how I felt before the games (and) it’s brought a lot of attention and questions to my other teammates,” he said. “I don’t want to distract from their Olympic experience, and I don’t want my Olympic experience to be about Mike Pence.”

12. But this guy’s not done with it. Rippon’s fans rallied around him — and so did USA Today’s Brennan — on social media Wednesday when Donald Trump Jr. took at shot at Rippon on Twitter.

Bristol Palin also weighed in last week when, on her blog, she wrote that “the cool thing for athletes to do now, apparently, is to snub any invitations to the White House in order to take a stand against the Donald Trump administration.”

She wrote that Pence had reached out “with kindness” to Rippon and “in today’s crazy political climate, it’s nice to be kind — even if we have different political views.

“I hope one day Adam and the Vice President have a chance to sit down together. In the meantime, I hope Adam — and all of Team USA — do a great job representing our nation well!”

13. Operation Celebration. Rippon told ABC News that he already has party plans in mind for when he gets home to California.

You can quote him on this.

“I’m going to go to Target and I’m going to get a bottle of Sauvignon blanc, Oyster Bay, with the twist top, immediately,” he said.

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