Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain-Gribble are breaking figure skating’s heteronormative mold

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The sport of figure skating – and especially pairs’ figure skating – was built on a heteronormative ideology that has historically benefitted skaters who play into specific gender and romantic stereotypes.

But the American pair of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc is aiming to challenge some of those longstanding notions, including at this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We’re just hopeful that people watching saw two really strong athletes come together to make something really beautiful,” LeDuc said after Thursday night’s pairs’ short program, in which their score of 79.39 broke the U.S. Figure Skating Championships record.

The duo is in first place heading into Saturday’s free skate.

ON HER TURF UPDATE: Nonbinary figure skater Timothy LeDuc makes Winter Olympic history

Should LeDuc and Cain-Gribble be selected to represent the U.S. at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, LeDuc could become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.

“As a person that exists and really thrives outside of the binary, it can be very complicated sometimes navigating a gendered sport,” LeDuc explained on the latest episode of My New Favorite Olympian. “They look at me, they see that I have a beard or they look at maybe my physical characteristics and say, ‘You’re a boy, act like a boy.'”

(You can listen to the episode of “My New Favorite Olympian” via this link or by subscribing to the show on your favorite podcast app.) 

LeDuc, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, initially received backlash from their family – as well as some members of the figure skating community – when they first came out as gay.

“I had a tryout with a girl once and she decided not to skate with me because she thought me being gay was going to be a liability,” they said. 

LeDuc’s family has since become much more supportive, both of their sexuality and gender identity. The 31-year-old came out as non-binary earlier this year.

And on the ice, LeDuc found an ideal partner in Cain-Gribble, who they paired up with in 2016.

“When Timothy and I teamed up, we never wanted to be what was looked at as the traditional team,” Cain-Gribble explained. “We want people to look at our skating and know that they don’t have to change who they are in order to be a part of this sport… You shouldn’t have to fit a mold.”

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At the conclusion of Saturday’s free skate, two U.S. pairs will be selected to compete at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

On Wednesday, reigning U.S. pairs’ champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew from the competition after Frazier tested positive for Covid-19. They are expected to petition for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team – and based on their previous results and potential – that petition will likely be approved.

That would leave just one remaining spot, which will likely come down Cain-Gribble/LeDuc and the pairs currently in second (Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson) and third (Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov).

2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships – Pairs – Short Program Results:

  1. Cain-Gribble/LeDuc, 79.39
  2. Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson, 77.48
  3. Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov, 68.11
  4. Emily Chan/Spencer Howe, 61.94
  5. Kate Finster/Matej Silecky, 54.68
  6. Katie McBeath/Nathan Bartholomay 50.11
  7. Valentina Plazas/Maximiliano Fernandez, 49.80
  8. Sydney Cooke/Keyton Bearinger, 44.28

RELATED: Non-binary figure skater Timothy LeDuc wins U.S. pairs’ title with Cain-Gribble

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC