By Grace Knoop
Boston University News Service
Ice skater Timothy LeDuc will compete as the first openly nonbinary Winter Olympian at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing this Friday, three years after becoming the first openly gay athlete to win the pairs competition at a U.S. championship.
LeDuc solidified their place in the U.S. Olympic team along with their skating partner, Ashley Cain-Gribble, after the pair won their second U.S. Figure Skating Championship earlier this month in Nashville, Tennessee.
They will be joined by the pair Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who was granted the Olympic berth based on their competitive track record.
Angelina McNulty and Emily Ackerman, teammates on the Boston University Synchronized Skating Team and partners off the ice, feel proud and hopeful about the future of LGBTQ+ athletes as LeDuc stands on the brink of making history at the Olympics.
“I just thought it was super awesome because I know that for me personally, a big barrier to me coming out originally was just the environment of synchronized skating just because it is such a heteronormative sport,” McNulty said.
Similar to synchronized skating, pairs skating can be a primarily heteronormative sport, but LeDuc and Cain-Gribble have challenged that. They have created a more inclusive environment for nonbinary athletes. The team has gone as far as to change the sport’s language, with LeDuc helping introduce the term “lifting partner” when referring to the traditional male pair partner role in the required elements of the lifts, twists, and throws in a pairs program.
LeDuc’s journey in the world of figure skating was rocky and filled with multiple failed partnerships and unsuccessful coaching teams until they partnered with Cain-Gribble.
McNulty and Ackerman believe this is a step in the right direction — changing the narrative in the sport and giving a voice to LGBTQ+ members. Growing up in a heteronormative sport, Ackerman struggled to share her identity with her teammates. “Just seeing that being represented more, it’s just good to see,” Ackerman said. “I would have felt comfortable coming out in high school because of it.”
LeDuc and Cain-Gribble are set to compete in their short program, where they hope to see improvement from the last Olympic result for U.S. pairs teams, which featured Knierim placing 15th with her husband and partner at the time, Chris Knierim.
Fellow Olympian Adam Rippon, the first openly gay man to make a U.S. Winter Olympic team, shared his support for LeDuc on Twitter. Rippon emphasized how LeDuc’s appearance at the Games is in its own an achievement of Olympic proportions, shedding light for generations of athletes to come.
“Timothy is [a] champion and a role model. Their success and story are inspiring. I CAN NOT wait to cheer as loudly as possible for them *and their pairs partner Ashley* in Beijing,” tweeted Rippon.