Figure skaters Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain-Gribble won the pairs’ title and a likely ticket to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics on Saturday night at the 2022 U.S. Championships. (Video of their free skate is embedded above, while a full recap of the pairs’ competition can be found here.)
This is the second national title for LeDuc and Cain-Gribble, who paired up in 2016. Thanks to their victory in Nashville, LeDuc is expected to become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics. U.S. Figure Skating will officially announce which two pairs’ teams will represent Team USA in Beijing on Sunday morning.
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During Saturday evening’s press conference, LeDuc offered some thoughts on the way they hope their story is told, especially ahead of the Olympics.
“My hope is that when people see my story, it isn’t focused on me and saying, ‘Oh, Timothy is the first out non-binary person to achieve this level of success in sport.’ My hope is that the narrative shifts more to, ‘Queer people can be open and successful in sports.’ We’ve always been here, we’ve always been a part of sports. We just haven’t always been able to be open,” they said.
“I know that me being here – and being able to be out now – is only possible because of the many great people who came before me. I stand on the shoulders of so many amazing queer people that have pushed their way through this sport, allowing me to be open now.”
LeDuc and Cain-Gribble are known for their pioneering style in pairs’ figure skating, where skaters who play into specific gender and romantic stereotypes have historically benefitted.
“I think we want to dedicate these performances and this title to all the people that felt like they didn’t belong – or were told that they didn’t belong – in this sport,” Cain-Gribble said. “Many times we were told that, even when we teamed up.”
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LeDuc and Cain-Gribble prepared for U.S. Championships using an intense visualization process that forced them to imagine the pressure they would feel in Nashville.
Ahead of each training session back home in Texas, they would wait together at the boards. Before getting on the ice, LeDuc would announce the scores of the “competitors” who went before them. After LeDuc and Cain-Gribble finished their own training performance, LeDuc would provide their own scores.
“I know athletes say this all the time, but we worked so hard,” LeDuc said.
“We prepared beyond what we thought was possible,” Cain-Gribble added. “At times it could feel really isolating because honestly you felt a little bit crazy. But at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful process and we were able to say that we couldn’t have done anything more.”
Note: Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain-Gribble appeared on the most recent episode of “My New Favorite Olympian.” The podcast episode is embedded above, or you can subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC