US skater Rippon wants Pence spat to take backseat to games

FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2018, file photo, Adam Rippon performs during the men's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif. Rippon remains open to speaking with Mike Pence over the vice president’s conservative stance on gay rights after the Pyeongchang Olympics. The openly gay Rippon criticized the White House last month for choosing Pence to lead the official U.S. delegation for the Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, opening ceremony. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Adam Rippon doesn’t want his monthlong dispute with Mike Pence over the vice president’s record on gay rights to overshadow his long-awaited Olympic performance.

Or those of the rest of the American team.

One of two openly gay U.S. athletes at the Pyeongchang Games, Rippon criticized the White House last month for choosing Pence to lead its official delegation for Friday’s opening ceremony.

Pence has been considered an opponent of the LGBT community after the conservative vice president signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act while serving as governor of Indiana.

Critics say the legislation encourages discrimination against gay people.

”I don’t want to make this too much for my competitors and for my teammates,” Rippon said after an afternoon practice session Thursday. ”I’m just kind of focused on the competition. The opening ceremony is tomorrow. I don’t mind talking about it but I don’t want to distract my teammates.”

Pence, who arrived in Seoul on Thursday, also tried to bury the story. He tweeted to Rippon: ”I want you to know we are FOR YOU. Don’t let fake news distract you. I am proud of you and ALL OF OUR GREAT athletes and my only hope for you and all of (hash)TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ’em!”

What Rippon jokingly referred to as ”brouhaha” began with an interview with USA Today last month in which he called Pence, among other things, a hypocrite for espousing Christian virtues while standing by some of the divisive and inflammatory statements made by President Donald Trump.

”If he’s OK with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries,” Rippon said, ”I think he should really go to church.”

Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, was quick to respond with a sharp rebuke. Farah said in a statement that some of Rippon’s statements were ”totally false” and had ”no basis in fact,” including an assertion he made that Pence was a proponent of gay conversion therapy.

Their spat took another odd twist this week when USA Today, citing unnamed sources, reported Pence tried to speak with Rippon in mid-January but the skater turned down his overtures.

Jarrod Agen, the vice president’s communications director, called the report ”false” and said Pence’s office never reached out to Rippon. Agen called for the report to be corrected.

Rippon did not say Thursday whether any olive branches were offered, but he did say he has no interest in meeting with Pence until after the Olympics. The 28-year-old American will make his debut Monday in the free skate portion of the team event for the medal-contending U.S. squad, then he’ll compete later this month with teammates Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou in the individual competition.

”I mean, after the competition I’ll have an open conversation,” Rippon said, ”but the opening ceremony is tomorrow. I’m really focused on the competition. I’ve waited 28 years to get here. I’m trying to stay focused. It’s my opportunity show the world what I’ve got and represent my country.”

U.S. skier Gus Kenworthy, who also is openly gay, also has been critical of Pence’s role in leading the U.S. delegation, calling him a ”strange choice” in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres this week.

Rippon and Kenworthy both say they would skip a White House visit if Team USA is invited.

”I think at the very core I’ve always spoken my mind, spoken from the heart,” Rippon said. ”I think as an athlete that’s important. And I know not everyone will agree with me, but I think that is what is special about the Olympics. It’s a time to come together as athletes and unite.”

More AP Olympic coverage:

WTNH NEWS8 provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Also, you can now block any inappropriate user by simple selecting the drop down menu on the right of any comment and selection "Block User" from there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s