Adam Rippon, the first openly gay men’s figure skater for the U.S. Olympic team, criticized the selection of Vice President Mike Pence to lead the American delegation to next month’s winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and said he doesn’t believe Pence “has a real concept of reality.”
“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality. To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory,” Rippon told USA Today in an interview published Wednesday. “If he’s OK with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘shitholes,’ I think he should really go to church."
Rippon won the U.S. men’s figure skating championship in 2016 and will complete on behalf of Team USA at the 2018 games, which begin next month.
The 28-year-old athlete said he wouldn’t “go out of my way” to meet Pence during a meet-and-greet with the official U.S. delegation that takes place before the opening ceremony, particularly if it were before a figure skating event.
“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” Rippon said. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.”
But the figure skater said there is a “possibility to have an open conversation” if he were to meet Pence after competing. Rippon said the vice president “seems more mild-mannered” than President Trump, but added Pence “doesn’t stand for anything that I really believe in.”
Rippon also criticized the vice president for allegedly supporting gay conversion therapy, a claim that has been denied by the vice president’s representatives several times.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon said of his selection to lead the American delegation. “I’m not buying it.”
Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for the vice president, again refuted the accusation that Pence backs gay conversion therapy in a statement to USA Today.
“The vice president is proud to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics and support America’s incredible athletes,” she said. “This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact. Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.”
Rippon isn’t the first athlete on the U.S. Olympic team to criticize the president and his administration.
Last month, skier Lindsey Vonn said she wouldn’t be representing Trump at the games, but will be representing the “people of the United States.” She also said she doesn’t believe members of the Trump administration are representing the country well, and she said she would decline an invitation to the White House if one was extended to her.