It is no secret, Adam Rippon stole the show at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang. Despite placing 10th during the competition, he has received praised from audiences around the world. Even from many Hollywood celebrities, (much to Adam’s delight); for his skating style, personality and excitement on and off the ice. To top it all off, he even won a bronze medal with the rest of Team USA in the team event. Adam’s biggest fan, however, seems to be NBC. The official network for the Olympic Games in the United States who has been swooning all over Adam Rippon since the opening ceremonies. During his competition, NBC devoted practically every other of their social media posts to Adam and brought him in for interviews with practically every person they could. He could barely step off the ice after his last performance before NBC offered him a gig to do commentary for them for the remainder of the games. His skating has been described as everything from fierce, fun, amazing, showstopper, authentic, honest, and lifechanging. There is one big word though, nobody, not NBC or even Adam himself, has used to describe him or his skating; gay.
So, what’s the deal? Was NBC risking another fallout after they censored Matthew Mitcham’s gay kiss at the 2008 Olympics? Are they trying to censor any mention of the word gay from being broadcast to the millions of viewers in the United States to afraid to see two men kiss? Well, the Kiss Seen Around the World answered that question.
Despite what people might believe and even argue, NBC not using the word “gay” from their descriptions of Adam achieves a lot more for LGBTQ+ athletic representation than you might realize. It is a long-standing stereotype that male Figure Skating tends to be, well, gay. Which is no surprise given that most of the gay Winter Olympians in the history of the Olympics tend to be figure skaters. To some extent, even the sport itself is trying to combat this stereotype by making the men’s division favor more athletic and masculine skaters by emphasizing the technical scores over the artistic scores. Therefore, Adam placed 10th, because to be competitive. Adam would have needed to attempt and, ideally, land quadruple jumps. He could only land triples, and even skaters who attempted quads but didn’t land them, could still score more points. The artistic component of his skate, was a not so subtle jab at this either.
What Adam was lacking in his ability to attempt quads however, he more than made up for in his artistic components. With much more flair, style, honesty, confidence, and personality than the other skaters, Adam skated a technically perfect program. If NBC had described Adam as gay, even something as innocent as “openly gay figure skater, Adam Rippon” they would have been unfairly describing Adam as nothing more than a stereotype. Instead, they showed Adam taking to the ice not as a gay figure skater, but as himself. The artistic merit of Figure Skating is where an athlete can truly express themselves through Figure Skating. By taking all those fancy jumps, spins and moves, making them their own. Adam skated an honest, authentic, confident and unapologetic program set to his favorite music because that is who he is.
This is also why, in contrast, Gus Kenworthy has also received so much coverage, including the above-mentioned kiss. Gus’ sport, freestyle skiing, is traditionally more machismo with the stereotype swinging the other way to favor more masculine and otherwise “straight” men. It brings visibility that not all gay Winter Olympic athletes are figure skaters, and that not all macho skiers are straight.
Adam went into the individual program knowing he wouldn’t medal, but that wasn’t his focus anyway. As Adam himself described it, he went in there to have fun and skate his best. You always have the most fun when you can be yourself. He didn’t go into the Olympics looking to be a stereotype and NBC didn’t make him into one. Adam’s performance wasn’t a “gay” performance, it was his own performance. It won over the audience because he was himself.
By Dirk Smith