Olympic Figure Skater Adam Rippon on Why It Took Him So Long to Come Out—and How Everything Changed Once He Did
If you’re a charismatic young man hoping to work in the entertainment business, there are a few common ways to break in. You can land a TV internship, audition for some acting gigs, or maybe launch a YouTube channel from your bedroom.
Another option, if you’re Adam Rippon, is to train hard for 15 years in mostly empty ice rinks, often getting injured and being mocked by your schoolmates—and then win a bronze medal at the Olympics.
Rippon drily acknowledges that his route to fame has not been the easiest or most direct one. “All along,” he jokes, “I was like, ‘This is just to get a guest spot on Ellen!’” But three days after his return from the closing ceremonies in South Korea, here he sits at Nobu Malibu, sipping sauvignon blanc and marveling at his packed media schedule, which has been arranged by his new agents at WME. In addition to the Ellen appearance this week, he’s got sit-downs with everyone from Stephen Colbert to The New York Times, plus a fitting with Moschino designer Jeremy Scott for the S&M-inspired tuxedo he’ll wear to this weekend’s Academy Awards.
Yes, everyone wants a piece of Adam Rippon. And the evidence suggests there’s enough of him to go around. In person, Rippon exudes the same mix of sassiness and sincerity that endeared him to legions of TV viewers who tuned in to watch some skating and ended up following him on Twitter to catch his banter with new fans like Reese Witherspoon or his cogent advocacy for LGBTQ+ causes.
Rippon, 28, still isn’t sure about his next career move, but he does know that triple and quadruple axels are slipping lower on his priority list. “I don’t want to be recognized for being an athlete anymore,” he says. “I’m over it.” Asked to name the high point of his four weeks in Pyeong-chang, he singles out the “crazy response” he got from spectators and the media. “I’ve always loved skating,” he says, “but on some level I’ve always known that entertaining is what I’m better at.”
VIDEO: The Fabulous Life of Adam Rippon
If Rippon has a key talking point, it’s the importance of being true to oneself. The surprise is that he’s a fairly recent convert to that conviction. Though Rippon is one of the few openly gay Olympians, he’s been out publicly for less than three years. Growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, he says, “for so long I was so ashamed of who I was. I never thought my mom or dad would have a problem with the truth, but I had a problem with it.” Eventually, as the miseries and frustrations of life inside the closet piled up, he started to “own who I am,” he says. “It’s a really liberating experience to just be yourself.”
On the ice, the effect was immediate. “There is a huge difference in the way I used to skate and the way I skate now,” Rippon says. “I used to mainly try to impress the judges, and for me that meant being perfect, and that meant holding back. And now I’m like, ‘Fuck ’em.’ ” Sometimes, while warming up on the rink before a competition, he’ll skate past the judges and make eye contact, greeting every official with a smile or a winking “Hey, how are you?”
“I mean, nobody does that,” he says. “That’s crazy! But I don’t care. I’m there to do what I can do.”
Off the rink, meanwhile, Rippon has grown bolder about calling out hypocrisies of all kinds. The oldest of six children from a Catholic family who went to church together every morning, he wishes some Christians would act a little more, um, Christian. “Jesus didn’t judge people—he hung out with everyone and was a friend of everyone. I don’t understand how people who are so religious don’t follow that example.” Then there’s the double standard of those who claim to have no problem with gay people but who freak out when same-sex couples have the gall to get married or to hold hands in public. “When you see a guy and a girl walking down the street and holding hands, do you think they’re flaunting their sexuality? No, they’re just holding hands. But when two girls do it, people say, ‘Oh, those girls are just terrible. They’re throwing it in my face!’ Actually, they’re just in love and living their lives. Like, let them go.”
Rippon himself has been single since last year, after breaking off a two-year relationship in order to focus on his Olympic training. In recent weeks his romantic suitors have become as numerous, and as brazen, as you might expect. “Suddenly I’m hearing from every single person I’ve matched with on Tinder, ever,” he says. “But it’s like, ‘You didn’t want to meet me when you had the chance, when I was trying. Why now?’ It’s hard, because you never know what someone’s intentions are.”
As he gets used to being a public figure and role model, Rippon has been fielding more and more requests for advice. One common topic: makeup tips. A self-taught expert on concealers and BB creams, he has watched countless YouTube tutorials over the years and perfected his technique in badly lit arenas worldwide. “With skating, the rule for guys and makeup is the same as with newscasting,” he says. “You’re on TV, there are close-ups, and you’re being judged on your appearance. So, look like you put some effort in.”
His own routine before a performance: “I’ll use a light foundation. Then I’ll do a little contour, because I figure, ‘What could it hurt? I’m already sitting here. I might as well try to look better while I’m at it.’ And then I’ll do some matte ChapStick and a little bronzer. It evens your skin tone out so when you’re overheated, you’re not red or patchy.”
Rippon’s No. 1 grooming rule for all men, gay or straight: “If you don’t do anything about your body hair, you’re gross. Some people think a lot of chest hair is sexy. Whatever, that’s your chest. But shave your damn armpits! Don’t go out there and raise your arm up with a tight shirt so everyone can see the hair pushing out. Laser it, buzz it, trim it. But do something.” As for Rippon’s much-discussed, much-tweezed eyebrows, he says they’re naturally blond, so he regularly dyes them a few shades darker to match his hair. But he’s not a regular at any exclusive salons in his current hometown of Los Angeles. “No, I’m trash,” he says. “I’ll literally walk in anywhere there’s a sign that says ‘Eyebrow Wax,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Do you have five minutes?’ ”
When I ask Rippon to name his dream job, he initially deflects the question with a remark about keeping all doors open. But after his second glass of wine, he blurts out his fantasy: to host his own talk show. “I love hearing other people’s stories, and I love making people laugh,” he says. Whatever his next gig, Rippon is well aware that sudden fame can sometimes turn nice guys into monsters, and he’s got a few strategies for keeping it real. “The most important thing is to really enjoy what you’re doing and to treat every single person you meet in the same way that you want to be treated,” he says. Lately he’s been reminding himself of a story his father once told him.
“When my dad was in school, he took a public-relations class. And the final exam had one question: ‘What’s the name of the janitor who works here?’ And nobody got it right. The teacher was like, ‘The whole point of public relations is that you meet everybody. Because you never know who they are or where they’re going.’” Besides, Rippon adds, “If someone is being ignored by everyone else and you treat them well, you might make that person’s day. And we’ve all been that person at some point. So I always try to stay mindful of that.”
From now on, Rippon says, whenever he reads a comment where someone calls him a jerk, he’ll be able to dismiss it easily. “I’ll know the person just hasn’t met me yet.”
Photographer: Robbie Fimmano. Fashion editor: Andreas Kokkino. Grooming: Sylvia Wheeler. Manicure: Marisa Carmichael. Production: Kelsey Stevens Productions.
For more stories like this, pick up the May issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download April 13.