Figure skater Adam Rippon made history Sunday as the first openly gay U.S. man to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
The Pennsylvania native’s selection came as a surprise to some, given that he came in fourth place at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday. U.S. Figure Skating President Sam Auxier cited Rippon’s body of work in selecting him over Ross Miner, 26, who came in second place, yet has “struggled in international competition.”
Rippon told The Washington Post he was “really grateful” to have been chosen, noting, “I feel that my experience will help me have my best performances at the Olympic Games, and it feels amazing to say that.”
His placement is historically significant for another reason, too. Though Chen, 18, and Zhou, 17, are also making their Olympic debuts, Rippon is the oldest American figure skating rookie to compete in the Winter Games since 1936.
“I’m so excited that my two sons are doing so well. I’m honored to be their father,” Rippon quipped. “I always sort of feel like a leader or a big brother.”
He may not be the only queer athlete heading to Pyeongchang from the U.S. in February. Freeskier Gus Kenworthy, who came out as gay in 2015, is expected to find out later this month if he’s made the cut on the U.S. ski team.
While Rippon makes history as the first openly gay man to qualify, a number of Olympic figure skaters have come out as LGBTQ after their competitive days have ended.
Though Johnny Weir’s glitzy performances at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games prompted media speculation over his sexuality, he didn’t confirm he was gay until the release of his 2011 memoir, Welcome to My World.
In contrast, Rippon vowed to be open about his sexuality from the get-go, if he was “given the chance and the platform.”
“Growing up, I really didn’t have a lot of role models,” he told NPR in a Jan. 5 interview. “And I want somebody who’s young, who’s struggling, who’s not sure if it’s OK if they are themselves to know that it’s OK.”
UPDATE Jan. 22 Kenworthy has secured a spot on the men’s slopestyle Olympic team, and will join Rippon in Pyeongchang next month.