Part Five: Euphoric in Utopia
2017 was a bitch. Attending last week’s U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose was like being lifted to an alternate universe that was not full of hate and ugliness but one that embraced beauty, grace, athleticism and the pursuit of dreams. To be in a safe space filled with like-minded souls encouraging others to be their best selves was a straight up trip. I didn’t want to leave Oz.
Seeing old friends, making new ones, meeting personal idols and making connections with athletes I admire was wonderfully overwhelming. It was a week of high highs and no lows.
Here are a few fav takeaways from my time in nirvana:
• Having media credentials and going behind the scenes for the first time, attending press conferences and interviews right alongside all the major news outlets was heady stuff (and it was a bit tough to maintain a skosh of outward dignity while inside I was doing high kicks and splits). A particular clutch-my-pearls moment was meeting and getting to know USA Today sports columnist and author Christine Brennan. She’s a tough-as-nails news journalist but has kind eyes, a generous nature and was always agreeable to sharing a bit of insider dish with the gay guy from Dallas. She tipped me off that she would appear in an upcoming ABC special (no air date at the time) that would shine a harsher spotlight on the Tonya Harding affair. (It aired last night.)
• Michelle Kwan. Yes, the kween. Michelle is revered like a goddess in the skating universe and rightfully so. She competed at a high level for over a decade and is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history. Known for her consistency and expressive artistry on ice, she is widely considered one of the greatest figure skaters of all time. But there was life after skating for Kwan. She earned a degree in international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 2011 and worked as a policy envoy for both the Bush and Obama administrations. In San Jose, she was the guest at an intimate Q&A sponsored by U.S. Figure Skating to which I was happily in attendance. After she spoke and answered questions, naturally I swooped in to get some face time. She is very present, funny, considerably down to earth and has a natural curiosity. At times I found myself answering her questions. I asked if her interest in politics might grow into seeking public office (something that has been speculated about for some time). She says she’s still trying to define her next steps but will continue to support the Democratic party. Yep. She’s one of us.
• Cain & LeDuc. I have been following U.S. Pairs skaters Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc for Dallas Voice for several months and getting an insider look as they fought to defend their Bronze Medal at Nationals was a real gas. Cain and LeDuc train at the DrPepper Star Center in Euless along with several other elite skaters. Following a disappointing short program they rebounded in the free skate with, arguably, the best performance of the night and rocketed from 8th to an impressive 4th place finish and winning the pewter medal. Since the U.S. can only send one pairs team to the upcoming Olympics in PyeongChang South Korea, Cain & LeDuc didn’t get their dream of making the team but did win an assignment to the prestigious pre-Olympic Four Continents Championships in Taipei City, Taiwan. LeDuc, an out gay athlete, told me he was grateful for the exposure gleaned from Dallas Voice and for the opportunity to be a representative of the GLTBQ community.
• Adam Rippon. I was gobsmacked to score a personal interview with Adam Rippon prior the start of the Men’s competition — one of only two media outlets granted interviews (the other was the Associated Press). After befittingly high drama (he nailed the short program and faltered in the long), Adam Rippon made history in San Jose by becoming the first openly gay U.S. man to qualify for the Winter Olympics. Rippon is uniquely himself: “I was recently asked in an interview what its like to be a gay athlete in sports. I said that it’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work but usually done with better eye brows,” he posted in a recent tweet (@Adaripp). Many athletes have come out after retiring from competition but Adam Rippon, along with Timothy LeDuc, are among the few to do so while still competing. He might have some company in PyeongChang. Freestyle Skier 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. Rippon is quick with a quip but has a lot of heart to take to the games: “I really didn’t have a lot of role models growing up,” he told me. “I want any young person, who’s struggling, who’s not sure if it’s okay if they are themselves, to know that it is OK.”
• The 2018 U.S. Nationals is in the record books. And for always, they will be in my memory book.
Faster. Higher. Stronger.
— Coy Covington