Adam Rippon didn’t just win bronze, he won over America

Adam Rippon wasn’t the only figure skater breaking a sweat last winter at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He was, however, the only one with his foot wrapped in a cast, jammed into the stirrup of an exercise bike. The 28-year-old athlete fractured his fifth metatarsal weeks before he was set to defend his title as the 2016 U.S. National Champion, taking him out of the running and turning his focus to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Rippon, who won back-to-back World Junior Championships in 2008 and 2009, competed in the games for the first time this past weekend, and helped the U.S. figure skating team take home the bronze medal with a dazzling performance. And as he encroaches on 30, he is taking stock of his remarkable achievements. “I let go of being embarrassed that I’m older or that things didn’t come together sooner,” he says. “I see myself there, and it feels right this time.”

Rippon, who discovered his passion during a friend’s skating-themed birthday party in his native Pennsylvania, doesn’t have the raw power to complete the quadruple jumps that dominate the sport. Instead, he’s known for his precision, his artistry, and his signature move— the “Rippon lutz,” a variant of the triple lutz, where he raises his arms above his head, rather than holding them close to his chest.

Something else he’s not keeping close to his chest: his sexuality. In a sport where the assumption is that most male competitors are gay, Rippon is one of the few to actually say so. He says that his decision has emboldened him to push the envelope, which, in the surprisingly conservative world of competitive figure skating, can mean something as simple as wearing a tank top on the ice. “I’m just trying to show the audience and the judges who I am,” he says. “I know that I can do myself better than anybody else can.”