Even as he was becoming one of the powerhouses of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Adam Rippon wasn’t quite anticipating the attention and adoration he received for his bronze-medal-winning performance and bold outfits that had celebrities gushing.
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“I wasn't expecting the response that I got while I was there. I think every time I got on my phone, it was like blowing up. Like, my Twitter would crash. My Instagram wouldn't open up,” he told ABC News' “Nightline.”
The figure skater who won over America with his grace, charm and sass spoke with freestyle skier and “Nightline” special correspondent Gus Kenworthy recently about being openly gay, life after the Olympics and becoming a voice for the LGBTQ community.
At 28, Rippon became the oldest American skater to make his debut at the games in 80 years.
He and Kenworthy also shared the special honor of being the first openly gay male U.S. athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics.
“One of my favorite memories was walking in opening ceremonies -- and we got to do that together,” Rippon said.
Like Kenworthy, Rippon came out of the closet in 2015.
“Coming from a really small town and feeling like I didn't have many people to look up to as a young kid, I felt like it was necessary,” he said.
Known for his bravado, Rippon boldly declared himself “America’s sweetheart” during a news conference.
“I was like, you know I'm, I feel, in a very powerful place right now. I'm going to say that I'm America's sweetheart once and see what happens. I said it once in a press conference and then [on the news] I could read on the screen underneath, 'America's sweetheart Adam Rippon,'” he said.
Getting to the sport’s biggest stage was an uphill task for the Scranton, Pennsylvania native. The oldest of six siblings, he was raised by a single mother and failed to qualify for the games twice.
After he qualified for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Rippon became an important voice for the LGBTQ community when he openly criticized the decision to have Vice President Mike Pence, known for his anti-gay positions in the past, lead the U.S. delegation.
When Kenworthy asked him whether he'd be open to a sit-down with Pence, Rippon said that having an open conversation was important to bring about change.
“On the flip side of that, the conversation -- it’s not for me. It's a conversation for that trans man or woman that can't even go to the right bathroom. It's a conversation for that trans man or woman that can't join the military. It's a conversation for the Muslim family that got broken up or had a mother, father travel and then wasn't allowed back in,” he said. “I don’t have a story to tell. I’m just using my platform to the best of my ability.”
Both men chose not to join fellow Olympians on their trip to the White House to meet President Donald Trump.
“I think that it's important that if we see an administration that discriminates against trans members in the military or our own Muslim-American citizens, that we need to speak up, because at one point or another, it's great that we can be having this interview right now as two out men, but there was a time not too long ago where this would be like too weird,” Rippon said.
Trading his signature triple lutz for the tango, Rippon has now become a smash sensation on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” using his life-long experience of working with music and choreography to keep shining, albeit in a new way.