Adam Rippon became a for-real famous person in America in under a month. The 28-year-old figure skater arrived home from the Winter Olympics with a bronze medal in the figure skating team event, went on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” had photo shoots with magazines including InStyle and Rolling Stone, went to the Oscars in an S-and-M-themed tuxedo that got rave reviews, and then came to New York City for stops at Vanity Fair and BuzzFeed and Bravo.
Next, he’s off to tour with Stars on Ice, but then what? This week, he came to The New York Times, where a group of reporters and editors grilled him about what he’s learned and where he’s going.
The Times: How do you go through all this and stick to who you are, which is really a figure skater? How are you going to find the time to practice?
ADAM RIPPON: Well, I think the thing is that who I am isn’t defined by just being a skater. I think at the very core I am somebody who loves engaging with people, I love making people laugh, and along the way I’ve been a professional athlete and someone who’s gone to the Olympics.
How are you going to find time to continue to skate at the level that you’ve been skating at?
This was my first and probably — not “probably.” I’m not going to lead you down that path. This is my first and last Olympic experience as an athlete. On our Olympic team I was 28 years old, and we had two other really talented kids who were 17 and 18. So there’s a bit of an age gap there where I could have changed their diapers and babysat them when they were born. I’m an Olympic medalist, I’m a former national champion — I think now is my time to kind of step back and help them.
Are you saying you don’t want to skate competitively any more?
I don’t know. I know I won’t make it to another Olympic Games. And I think right now, being one week out of the Olympics, it’s probably too early to be like, “It’s over! Tie ’em up, put ’em on the shelf!” It’s something I’ve been trying to do my entire life. Now everything I do is literally just bonus.
How has that affected how brands and sponsors approach you? So much of sponsorships is tied to medaling, and specific championship goals.
I’m not your typical Olympic athlete by any means. The response I’ve gotten in the interactions I have with people is that me being an athlete is so secondary, which I feel very comfortable with. I can take all of those tools with me and select whatever is out there next. But I think that, you know, I’ve done a lot as an athlete. So I don’t want to take anything away from that. But at the same time I don’t think that’s why I’m here today in this room. There are other athletes who are more decorated or more accomplished, but they’re not as funny and they’re not as cute.
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Did you feel that during the games? Because I feel like, just from someone who wasn’t in Korea, the narrative minimized your skating.
Yes. I knew that I was opening my big mouth and saying a lot of stuff. I, at some level, knew that I would get a lot of attention — it’s not typical that athletes go and they speak their mind or they joke around with the media who’s there. I think the narrative around me, yes, a little bit downplayed that I was even an athlete.
But at that time I was sort of having fun with it, because there started being more and more attention and then all of a sudden it was like, I bet by the end of this people will start calling me America’s sweetheart. I really wanted to push the narrative that you can just be yourself, and there will be people who don’t like you — but they’re stupid.
You also walked right into U.S. politics and gay politics when you went there. Was that a deliberate decision on your part in advance?
I know a lot of people think, “You know, you don’t need to make everything political.” But if you have somebody who’s the representative of the country or a representative of all of the athletes there and they’re on record stating that they think that gay marriage could be the societal collapse of America? As a gay person, representing the United States at the highest level of sport, yeah, I have a problem with that. I don’t feel like that’s representative of me.
The world is watching. It’s your chance to speak up for those people who really don’t feel like they have a voice. I was asked a question and I just answered it really honestly and you know, I’m a 28-year-old taxpaying voting man. As a fully grown adult, it’s important for me to voice my concerns.
Have you had a lot of pushback on social media?
Yes, I mean, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have maybe a few hundred messages that say, stay in your lane. “You should give back your Olympic medal.” Or like, “You didn’t even win.”
Do you engage with them?
I only engage with the ones who are just incredibly stupid. Because you can’t engage with somebody who’s just trying to be nasty, they’ll just continue to be nasty.
Can you speak at all to the experience of being out in a sport that has for so long been associated with being culturally gay?
In skating, I think it’s taboo to be gay. I know when I was younger I tried to be everything but gay. Everyone calls you gay when you’re young: “Oh you skate, you’re gay.” You’re like, “No I’m not!” But inside you’re like, yes you are, you’re very gay.
How do you try to go against it?
For me what was hard was I would have girlfriends and I was like, this isn’t gross. So it was hard for me to kind of find a balance of am I gay or does everybody feel like this? I tried so hard to just not be that and not just be another cliché. You know, on the Olympic team, of all the skaters on it, I was the only one that was gay. Are there gay people in skating? Hell yeah there are.
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Do you have any permanent physical repercussions from skating?
No, just emotional. Yes, of course there’s a few. I wake up every morning and twist my ankles and it sounds like a music box — clack clack clack clack clack.
You talked about eating issues and body image issues contributing to injuries — you’re in a position now, especially during the Games, when there’s so much scrutiny on your body, and you’ve got a lot of thirst coming your way. I’m wondering how you deal with all that scrutiny?
Breaking my foot was sort of the best thing that ever happened, because I went to the Olympic Training Center and I sat down with a nutritionist and I told her, I know I’m a mess and I know that I’m doing something wrong. Now I’m comfortable in my own skin. And it wasn’t always that way. But you know, I like my body. Even though I haven’t been to the gym in two weeks and I had a few trips to McDonald’s when I was at the Olympic Village.
But you know, I’m an athlete, I work really hard for the body I have and yes, there are always going to be people who are like, Oh you’re too skinny or you’re too heavy or your boobs look weird or whatever. This is the body that you have. Embrace it. It’s so easy to be a commentator in anybody’s life because everybody has a platform now. Everybody has a Twitter. Everybody has an Instagram so it’s so easy to just say, “You’re fat.”
People aren’t saying you’re fat.
No. Well. Because I’m not fat right now. Not yet. So I think that what’s important is that when you have body goals that you speak to somebody who’s a professional. And that they tell you, “This is realistic.”
It sounds like you’re good at shaking off negativity and trolls. Do you see younger people struggling with that on social media?
My advice to the young kids coming up is that there is way more positivity coming your way. Before you respond to a negative tweet or somebody who’s just trying to be hateful, respond to five positive messages first. Once you are finished responding to those five, you realize that the one negative is just so not important, and you’ve already lost interest in trying to be like, “You don’t know me!” It’s just not important. They don’t know you, and they obviously don’t want to get to know you.
Have you heard from athletes that are in the closet?
I heard from a few athletes actually when I was in Korea, and they asked me about my experience. I think everyone’s circumstance is a bit different. For me I found that I was a lot more confident in who I was after I came out publicly. When I was coming out, I read a lot about other people’s coming-out stories. I really felt like they made it so normal and it wasn’t a big deal and that their life still went on.
When was this?
This was about 2014. It was around the time of the Sochi Olympics. I said, you know what, I want to be taken seriously and I don’t want to come out as gay when I’m skating terribly. You know they’re like, “Oh, that was the kiss of death!” So I worked really hard, because I felt like it was important — it gave my skating a greater purpose because it was not for me. And then I felt so liberated once I did it, because I was able to make music decisions, costume choices that I wanted to make.
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In skating you have four minutes to show the world what you’ve been working on your entire life. If you can’t embrace who you are, how are you going to show a panel of judges or the world who you are in four minutes? I’m just going to be me who loves trashy music and wants to skate in something that’s kind of slutty. And just really have a good time throughout the whole competitive experience, because if you’re not enjoying it, it’s already a rough situation to be in. But if you’re trying to be something else while going through something so pressure filled, there’s almost no joy in the whole experience.
What kind of advertisers have been reaching out to you for endorsements? Were there surprises?
They’ve all gone to my management team and I’ll have a meeting with them when I get back. I think they’re trying to not preoccupy me too much or throw me off. I‘ve been really surprised with the response I’ve gotten from so many people and all of the opportunities that I have coming up. I hope I’ll stick around for a while. I feel like in maybe a year or two, people will be like, “Adam Rippon is so funny. And did you know that he went to the Olympics?” And I kind of have a feeling that I’ve used the Olympics to get myself to meet the world.
Is the Olympic athletes’ village really like a hotbed of sexual Tinder, Grindr, everything?
Here’s the thing. The condoms aren’t special. The reason that they go through so many is because people like me take maybe 400 of them and I have little gift bags for my friends. They’re just like Korean — it says latex condom, but in Korean. But you know what, when you’re in a high-pressure situation and there’s like beautiful people all around, yeah, emotions get going.
But as somebody who’s 28, I’m not about to find somebody, try to sneak around five different roommates, lock a door and go through all of that. I’ll let young kids have this sexual camp experience here at the Olympics. I’ll just sit back, I’ll wait, and I’ll figure it out when I get home.
What was the last thing you Googled?
The last thing I Googled was “Brandi Glanville throws wine in Eileen Davidson’s face.”
Correction: March 9, 2018
A picture caption with an earlier version of this article misidentified a young skater. He is Paul Tran, not Anthony Dang.