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Even without gold, Adam Rippon is an Olympic champion

The Week of Adam Rippon brought joy so many of us had forgotten.

Figure Skating - Winter Olympics Day 8
Adam Rippon was a vision this entire week at the Winter Olympics.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If ever there was a true Olympic champion, it’s Adam Rippon.

As the figure skater glided across the ice after his free skate, his final bow in his first and last Olympics, he did so with no gold medal.

Yet Rippon did something more. The Olympic Creed itself deems it so. The Creed is an expression of value for the entire Olympic movement that, since it was first uttered over a hundred years ago, has guided the Games and its athletes.

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part,” the Olympic Creed reads, “just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Few have been the personification of that Olympic Creed quite like Rippon. He did not just take part in these Olympic Games, he owned them. He wrapped his slight, glittery arms around the entire event, tossed sequins across the world, and defied all of the conventional wisdom we have ever been told about what — and who — is an Olympic hero.

What brought Rippon to the front of the public eye were his comments weeks before these Olympics about his struggle, highlighting his understanding of the politics of the world and the people who have stood against him and his community. Clearing the hurdles that Rippon has faced has taken courage, determination and a fighting spirit to never let go of his dreams.

All of that has come full circle in an Olympic week that saw him win over the media and fans around the world with his sass and pizzazz.

“He’s owned these olympics,” said Terry Gannon on NBC’s broadcast. “He’s made them his.”

Rarely have we seen a sports figure more effectively capture and express a much-needed mood in this country. As division seems to creep increasingly into every corner of our lives, and negativity pervades conversation, Rippon has been a breath of fresh air for so many Americans — across the political spectrum — who’ve felt beaten down by the lack of smiles and celebration in our collective national conscience.

Some — a select few — indeed look at Rippon with disdain. As I’ve written about the outspoken gay Olympian over the last week, I’ve also noticed some nasty messages directed his way. Usually they’re completely uninformed or totally false claims about what he said or who he is.

There’s no uniting these people. That they have taken aim at Rippon with such venom is rather a powerful statement of Rippon’s achievements, and the hope he has brought so many others.

For the rest of us — young, old, gay, straight, men, women — it has been Rippon’s willingness to be his true self, and express himself however he wanted, that won over America.

Like nothing else, Americans crave authenticity. We get so little of it from our national leaders today — people worrying first and foremost how others will perceive them — that when we get authenticity served by the bucketload, we fall over ourselves with joy.

That’s what the week of Adam Rippon brought us: Joy. His pure, unadulterated, authentic self brought us joy so many of us had forgotten.

It was an absolute pleasure to watch this young man over the last week, all three times he took to the ice. I came to understand, halfway through his final free skate, that it didn’t matter one bit what his official score was, or whether he won a medal. His presence, his fortitude and his message were our medals.

No, Rippon didn’t win a gold medal. He’ll forever be an Olympic medalist thanks to his bronze medal from the team event. But that elusive individual gold has eluded him.

Yet Rippon won these Winter Olympics. And he will forever be an Olympic champion.