BEIJING — More than a month ago, in the bowels of Bridgestone Arena, Timothy LeDuc said they did not want this moment to be about them.
LeDuc, whose pronouns are they/them, did not want the narrative to focus on the history ahead. They wanted it to be the beginning of a shift, a way of showing queer people that they have the opportunity “to be open and be authentic to themselves and everything that makes them unique, and still achieve success in sport.”
With a brilliant performance at Capital Indoor Stadium on Friday, LeDuc did just that.
Skating with partner Ashley Cain-Gribble in the short program of the pairs event, LeDuc became the first openly nonbinary athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics – a historic step for LGBTQ representation and visibility at the Games.
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“I know for me, being openly nonbinary is only possible because amazing queer people have come before me and laid the groundwork for me,” LeDuc, 31, said Friday night. “So now I want to do that for others to come after, as well.”
LeDuc’s debut in Beijing follows that of Quinn, a women’s soccer player who became the first openly transgender and nonbinary person to win an Olympic medal when they earned gold with Canada at the most recent Summer Games.
According to GLAAD and Outsports, a website that covers LGBTQ issues and personalities in sports, LeDuc is one of at least 32 out LGBTQ athletes competing in the Beijing Games. There were 15 out athletes at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.
“I think it’s amazing,” fellow figure skater Jason Brown, who came out as gay last summer, said of the number of LGBTQ athletes competing in Beijing.
“The fact that visibility is just growing, for other people to come, is huge. I’m so proud to be a part of that. And I just feel so lucky to everybody that came before me.”
LeDuc has long echoed that sentiment. An Iowa native, they first told their parents at 18 that they were gay, then came out as nonbinary more than a decade later. The term encompasses people whose gender identity and/or gender expression falls outside the “man” and “woman” binary.
At the US Figure Skating Championships, LeDuc spoke at length about struggling to portray masculinity in figure skating, especially in a discipline like pairs where skaters often take on traditional masculine and feminine roles. It just felt “forced,” they said.
“It was never authentic to me,” LeDuc said. “When I was finally given the tools and shown the example that I can exist outside of that, it all made sense. I finally felt whole in myself.”
While feeling that there’s too much of a focus placed on physical characteristics when discussing gender expression, LeDuc also noted that they portray elements of both masculinity and femininity. They have a beard, for instance, but wear makeup during competition.
LeDuc found a perfect match in 2016 with Cain-Gribble, a former singles skater who has been open about facing body shaming earlier in a career that almost forced her into retirement. While LeDuc aims to prove that athletes shouldn’t be limited by their gender expression, Cain-Gribble hopes to show they shouldn’t be limited by body type.
“There is a body stereotype, still,” she said last month. “And we’re trying to definitely fight that.”
Together, LeDuc and Cain-Gribble have won two national championships. They are also trying to break the mold of traditional pairs skating, which Cain-Gribble has described as “the girl being lifted and the male partner just kind of standing there and lifting them.”
It’s why, in their short program Friday night set to “The White Crow” by Ilan Eshkeri, they displayed equal skating skills – performing many of the same moves, in unison, rather than filling stereotypical gender roles. They were rewarded with a score of 74.13, good for seventh place. The competition will continue with the long program Saturday night.
“I think both Ashley and I have had to overcome so many different things – so many times when people have told us no, or that we don’t belong,” LeDuc said Friday. “So for both Ashley and I, we had something to prove today, I think. And hopefully people watching us feel that there is space for them to come into figure skating, and for them to be able to celebrate what makes them unique and different .”
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism