Conor McDermott-Mostowy is a speed skater on the rise.
After a strong performance representing the United States at the 2021 World Championships in February, and then following up with a double-title-winning performance at the U.S. Championships last week, he’s nearing the top of his game.
Having only started in long track a few years ago after a few somewhat disappointing years in short track, his success this season hasn’t been a shocker, it’s simply been “somewhat unexpected.”
Yet here he is, having finished the most rewarding season of his career and now taking aim at the Olympic Games.
Through all of it — the years toiling in short track, multiple Junior World Teams and representing Team USA — McDermott-Mostowy has never hidden being gay from his fellow speed skaters.
Coming from a supportive family and community in the Washington, D.C., area, he’s never felt the need to keep his true self a secret. Yet he’s also never been one to wear a rainbow flag on his sleeve.
Somewhat uncomfortable with starting a conversation with people about him being gay — where do you start? — he’s instead been happy to answer any questions, just be who he is, and always figured that if a reporter asked him about it, he’d tell the truth.
So when Outsports reached out to him on Instagram a few weeks ago after he followed our account, his casual approach to his personal life came through: “I’d be happy to chat about it.”
Now he’s sharing his story as an elite world-class athlete — who just happens to be gay — for the first time.
Busting the stereotypes of a gay athlete
While acceptance has abounded in his family and speed skating network, the aura of sports and the misconceptions of gay athletes have in part held him back from being more fully “out” in the open.
He’s never, for example, posted something on Instagram that would tell a fellow athlete that he’s gay. Instead, subtle nods — some face sparkles and tagging men’s swimwear designer Parke and Ronen, popular with gay men — did the talking.
The idea of gay men not being athletic or good at sports has sat with McDermott-Mostowy for years and kept him from being more — for lack of a better term — proactively out.
“I think I’ve kind of always had that at the back of my mind,” he tells me from his apartment in Salt Lake City, on the latest episode of the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast. “I don’t want to talk about being gay, because there’s a stereotype that gay guys aren’t athletic, and I don’t want that to be held against me or used to justify a bad result.
“I’ve been uncomfortable with that. But I feel like at this point, no one can say anything.”
No one can say anything now in large part because McDermott-Mostowy has emerged onto the long track speed skating scene as one of the top American men in the sport.
At the U.S. Open National Championships earlier this month, McDermott-Mostowy was the United States national champion in both the 1000-meter and the mass start. He also earned a bronze in the 1500-meter, setting personal records in both that race and the 1000-meter.
He said he was so excited about his 1000-meter championship performance — blowing away his previous personal-best time — that he screamed an uncharacteristic “F-word” heard throughout the arena when he crossed the finish line.
“I’m pretty sure that they’re going to have to bleep that out when I cross the finish line,” he says of future telecasts. “I’m not someone who generally celebrates. That’s not really what I do.”
At the world championships last month, he was one of only four American men to compete, and one of the youngest athletes at the championships. He finished 21st in the 1500-meter and 17th in the 1000-meter.
“This year I have achieved every goal I had,” he wrote on Instagram, “more than I thought possible.”
Not surprising, having eaten and breathed his sport for the last decade, he’s much more comfortable talking about speed skating and his own athletic journey.
It’s been a long road for the young athlete. Five years ago the then-teenager was a short track skater floundering a bit in the sport. At the suggestion of a coach he made the switch to long track, and that’s made a world of difference.
A year out from the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, he’s now taking aim at a spot on the track in Beijing as part of Team USA. He’s got a legitimate shot.
Becoming an inspiration for others
If he does make it to the Olympics, he’ll be the rare out male athlete at the Winter Games. In 2018 there were four who were out — skier Gus Kenworthy, and figure skaters Eric Radford, Adam Rippon and Jorik Hendrickx. No male athlete had been publicly out at the Winter Olympics before those four.
He is already likely the most successful male long track speed skater to come out anywhere in the world. Previously we saw American Keith Carney come out on Outsports after a top-10 finish at the US Championships; American Matt Rittenhouse lived openly after he retired and talked to Outsports earlier this year about being gay. On the short track, Blake Skjellerup of New Zealand came out publicly after he had competed in an Olympic Games.
McDermott-Mostowy knows it will be business as usual in and around the training facilities in Utah, and then in competitions, which will start up again later this autumn.
“Everyone” in the sport already knew he dated other guys, and he says this public revelation won’t change a thing within speed skating.
“I can’t think of anything that’s ever been directed at me specifically,” he said of possible negative reactions to him being gay. “I’ve heard of some skaters saying homophobic stuff, not about me, but just in general. I’ve never had a bad experience with anybody personally.”
Making the United States Olympic team will not be easy, with many American athletes aiming for those spots. Some could look at his public coming out as a “distraction” from that goal. McDermott-Mostowy doesn’t see it that way. He sees it as an extension of it.
He doesn’t have a story of great internal struggle. His is of acceptance, all the way from his family to the other skaters on the ice.
That’s part of the very reason he wants to share his story now.
“If a happy coming-out story, a happy athletic story, can help someone, that’s great,” he says.
“And also to put myself out there. If anyone had ever wondered if I’m gay, now they’ll know. If anyone feels uncomfortable asking me, they don’t have to ask me.
“I can put myself out there and kind of go back to focusing on skating.”
You can listen to the conversation with Team USA speed skater Conor McDermott-Mostowy on the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts and many more platforms. Just search for Outsports wherever you get your podcast.
And be sure to follow Five Rings To Rule Them All on Twitter.
You can follow Conor on Instagram. You can also follow his sponsor, Skyline Enterprises, on Instagram.