By Blythe Lawrence | Dec. 26, 2018, 12:01 a.m. (ET)

Adam Rippon celebrates after competing at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 12, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea

 

If you didn’t know who Adam Rippon was before the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, you almost certainly do now. With a personality that outshines even the most bedazzled figure skating costume, Rippon has cut a striking figure on and especially off the ice this year, emerging as one of the breakout stars of 2018, and not just as a sportsman.

Start with the ice part, though. After being selected for the Olympic team on his third attempt, Rippon had a fantastic Olympic experience in PyeongChang, nailing his programs to help lift Team USA to bronze in the team competition. He was the top trending topic worldwide on Twitter at least once and had the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Britney Spears following his every move and posting about him.

Though a world-class skater who was both entertaining to watch and possessed of excellent technique, the 28-year-old was the first to acknowledge that his athletic ability was not what set him apart.

“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,” Rippon, the first openly gay American man to make a U.S. winter Olympic team, told The New York Times with typical candor. 

It’s that honest forthrightness, telling it like it is with signature unapologetic sass, that endeared him to millions during the Games.

“I was recently asked in an interview what it’s like to be a gay athlete in sports,” he wrote on Twitter in February. “I said that it’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work but usually done with better eyebrows.”

It isn’t all fun and games. Rippon realizes that part of having a global spotlight turned on him gave him the opportunity to speak for others, something he took seriously. His political criticism during the Games became as much of a news story as his skating, and he has defended his opinions rigorously on social media.

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Post-Games he’s relished the perks of Olympic athletedom, including sporting an attention-getting tailored halter tuxedo on the red carpet at the Oscars and a turn on the all-athlete edition of “Dancing with the Stars,” where he and partner Jenna Johnson waltzed their way to the mirror ball trophy. More recently, there’s been a cameo on “Will & Grace,” where Rippon appeared as an all-too-truthful barista.

Asked whether he plans to skate at the highest level again, Rippon refused to play maybe-I-will-maybe-I-won’t with the media, and he formally announced his retirement in November. 

PyeongChang might have been his first and only Olympic experience as an athlete, but if his 2018 is indicative of anything, it’s that this is the first in a long series of memorable years in the life of Adam Rippon.

“Now everything I do is literally just bonus,” he told The Times. 

For us too, Adam. Us too.

Blythe Lawrence is a journalist based in Seattle. She has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.