America’s First Openly Gay Winter Olympian Reportedly Rejected Meeting Mike Pence Twice

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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 in March 2015 while serving as governor of Indiana.

Critics said the legislation encouraged discrimination against gay people. An amendment with protections for the LGBT community was passed a week later.

“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 #TeamUSA is to bring home the gold. Go get ’em!”

Rippon’s practice session ended before Pence’s tweet, but his mother, Kelly Rippon, told CNN she objected to the vice president calling the story “fake news.”

“When people keep saying that word, ‘fake news,’ over and over again it implies that you can do things and you can never be held accountable for them because you just say that it’s fake,” Kelly Rippon said. “That repetition of that term I don’t think is good.”

The 28-year-old American will 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 to show the world what I’ve got and represent my country.”

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