'America's sweetheart' Rippon has his Olympic moment

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - If Pyeongchang proves to be Adam Rippon’s figure skating swan song then “America’s sweetheart” will look back on the Winter Games without an ounce of regret.

Figure Skating - Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Men Single free skating competition final - Gangneung, South Korea - February 17, 2018 - Adam Rippon of the U.S. in action. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The feisty 28-year-old, who came out as gay in 2015, has enthralled on the ice and entertained off it, his straight-talking style and devilish sense of humor going down a treat with fans and the media alike.

After landing a bronze as part of the team competition earlier in the week, Rippon placed 10th in the men’s singles competition on Saturday and said he would take some time to decide whether he will hang up his skates.

“I think at first I need a five-minute break and a really stiff drink and then maybe, like a day or two off the ice, at least to dry out my costumes, and then we’ll see,” he said.

Rippon stoked controversy ahead of the Games by criticizing the choice of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as the ceremonial head of the American delegation to the Winter Olympics. Rippon has been critical of Pence’s track record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

While the skater has been keen to focus on the competition at Pyeongchang, saying he did not want the issue to become a distraction for his team mates at the Games, he has also refused to retreat into his shell.

“I came here and I wanted to show the world who I was on and off the ice. I wanted to go out there and show that I am a serious athlete,” he said.

“But at the same time, have fun and show everybody, who I am. And I think that people have kind of enjoyed my honesty and my openness.”

A social media darling, Rippon’s performance on Saturday prompted an outpouring of praise on Twitter from fellow athletes and celebrities. He said his huge popularity stemmed from the fact that there was no hidden side to him.

“I try my best to keep it real and in my interviews, I try my best to be myself and when I am out there on the ice, I am just showing another part to myself,” he added.

“That’s exactly who I am, I have been completely honest with this whole Olympic experience. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“And I wanted to be open and honest about it and fun with the media, it’s a whole part of it that I wanted to enjoy and I enjoyed every single second... I am America’s sweetheart.”

Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly