When he made his Olympics debut Sunday night, Scranton-born figure skater Adam Rippon didn't have Vice President Mike Pence on his mind. He was thinking about Reese Witherspoon.
Rippon, the first openly-gay American man to qualify to compete in the Winter Olympics, unleashed a power performance in the men's free skate position of the team competition Sunday night, helping the American team earn a bronze medal.
In fact, Rippon's performance was so moving, NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir suggested the judges might have robbed him of a higher score.
“In the component score, in the artistic score, Adam was so much better (than Mikhail Kolyada),” Lipinski said. “I don't understand what performance the judges were watching.”
“He was absolutely spellbinding today. That was magnificent,” Weir said. “I'm a little bit taken aback as to why he's not ahead of Kolyada of Russia.”
Rippon is a charismatic 28-year-old who grew up in Clarks Summit and took weekend skating lessons in Philadelphia under coach Yelena Sergeeva.
He is a star in the making, telling reporters after his routine that performing in the Olympics is “like, pretty awesome” and that he just wants “to make Reese Witherspoon proud.”
The media has been eating up his carefree, spontaneous quotes.
When asked what goes through his mind when he steps onto the ice, he was reported as saying, “When you get on the ice and see the (Olympic) rings what’s going through your mind?” “Um, I want to throw up. I want to go over to the judges and ask can I have a Xanax and a quick drink?”
His friendship with Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American female skater to land a triple axel at the Olympics, has captured viewers’ attention.
“For both of us to be on this team, and to be on the same floor in the village, it's all super exciting,” Nagasu said. “He won't stop talking about how exciting this all is, and I go: `Adam! Adam! You know we still have a job to get done? We still have to skate well!“’
It was a far cry from four years ago when Rippon told NBC that he and Nagasu ate In-N-Out burgers on a rooftop during the Sochi Olympics after they when both failed to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Rippon’s skate capped a weekend that was already full of news about him
When it was announced that Vice President Mike Pence would lead the delegation in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Rippon said he has no interest in meeting with someone opposed to gay rights.
“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren't a friend of a gay person but that they think that they're sick,” Rippon told USA Today ahead of the Olympics.
According to USA Today, Pence was so concerned about Rippon's criticism that he reached out to the United States Olympic Committee to arrange “a conversation between the two.” Rippon declined, causing Pence's office to call the report “not accurate” and leading the vice president himself to lash out about “fake news” on Twitter.
Following Rippon's performance, NBC's Mike Tirico asked the young skater if his feud with Pence impacted his preparation for the Olympics.
“You know, I've worked my entire life for this moment. But more than that, my mom has always taught me to stand up for what I believe in, and that has given my skating a greater purpose,” Rippon said. “So I go out there and I'm not only representing myself, I'm representing my coaches, I'm representing my country and I'm representing my teammates. So I remember that and that's how I stay focused.”
Despite that, Rippon has made his opinions clear — he won't be attending any celebration with President Trump at the White House following the games in Pyeongchang, something that has become a tradition following previous Olympic games.
“No, I have no desire to go to the White House,” Rippon told The Daily Mail. “But I would like to do something to help my community.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.