If you missed the men’s figure skating event last night, here’s the deal: Adam Rippon is a sparkling jewel who delivered a near-flawless performance, and everyone is mad that he placed third out of five skaters.
Adam Rippon is easily the most popular male figure skater on Team USA. As well as being a champion thirst trap on Instagram, he’s embroiled in a public feud with Vice President Mike Pence, standing up for himself as one of America’s few openly gay athletes at the Winter Olympics. He made his Olympic debut during the team event on Sunday, skating an artistically accomplished program to “O (Fly On)” by Coldplay. And then he came third after two guys who flubbed their jumps and fell over.
This led to a repeat of what happens at every Winter Olympics when the general public is exposed to figure skating’s overcomplicated judging system. Namely, people yell at their TVs.
There are three potential explanations for what happened here, all equally annoying. The first possibility is that the judges are, like, totally biased and mean. As per a recent Buzzfeed report, this is a real problem—although we don’t know if it played into Rippon’s score.
The second explanation is Rippon’s lack of quad jumps. Men’s figure skating puts a lot of emphasis on quads, where the athlete revolves four times in midair. If you achieve all four rotations but fall over (which is what happened to Canada’s Patrick Chan and Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, who came first and second), you still get a bunch of points. Instead of attempting a quad, Adam Rippon just skated a gorgeous program that everyone loved.
Finally, there’s the incomprehensible scoring system. In 2004, the International Skating Union went from using a simple system (scoring out of six points) to one that involves a lot of math. Jumps and spins are graded and then combined with an artistic performance score, resulting in numbers like Rippon’s score of 172.98. It makes the sport much less accessible to new fans and bolsters the idea that figure skating is unfairly judged. Because, you know, you can fall over and still beat someone who didn’t fall over. This also ties into the sport’s restrictive gender roles, encouraging men to emphasize dangerous physical feats over artistic polish. Without multiple quads, Adam Rippon just isn’t competing on the same level as his teammate Nathan Chen, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno, or the two skaters who beat him at the team event. The good news is, he did win a bronze medal with Team USA, alongside his friend and Olympic Village roommate Mirai Nagasu.
It’s also important to remember that Rippon isn’t a passive victim of the figure skating establishment—he actively challenges expectations. While his Coldplay program is sensitive and classical, his short program (which you’ll see on Thursday night) is raunchy, fun, and refreshingly modern. Actually, he almost chose an even more rebellious program, to his own cover of “Diamonds” by Rihanna. He’s charming in interviews and hilarious on social media, and he’s using his public platform to campaign for LGBTQ equality. In terms of how he’s choosing to live his life as an Olympic athlete, he’s already won.