Non-binary skater Timothy LeDuc makes Winter Olympics history with breathtaking performance

Team USA's Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain-Gribble react after skating during the Pair Skating Short Program at the 2022 Beijing Olympics

US skater Timothy LeDuc has gone down in the history books as the first openly non-binary athlete to participate in a Winter Olympics event.

The trailblazing skater and their partner Ashley Cain-Gribble took to the ice on Friday (18 February) as part of the Olympic figure skating pair’s short programme.

There were due to be 19 pairs competing in the event, but the Hungarian duo withdrew before the programme. This left 18 teams from across the global to vie for the top 16 spots so they could progress to the free skating event on Saturday (19 February).

Team USA’s Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were the early leaders in the programme with a score of 74.23.

But LeDuc and Cain-Gribble came out swinging in the qualifying rounds with a gorgeous performance to Ilan Eshkeri’s “The White Crow”.

Their stunning routine included perfectly in sync side-by-side triple loops and ultimately garnered the pair a total score of 74.13, putting them just a hair below their Team USA teammates. Both pairs have now secured a sport in Saturday’s free skate.

Ashley Cain-Gribble had a huge smile on her face as she hugged Timothy LeDuc close after the duo finished their stunning routine. As they exited the ice, she was heard commenting: “We’re officially Olympians.”

In the lead up to the Olympics, LeDuc told the Washington Post that they knew from a young age that they “didn’t fit very neatly into what was expected of me in terms of masculinity and manhood”.

“But I also learned very quickly how I had to conform to those things for safety, to be taken seriously to find my success,” LeDuc added.

The 31-year-old skater described how they grew up in a “very Christian conservative household” in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

So they said it wasn’t until later in life, after they first came out as gay and met other people in the LGBT+ community, that they discovered the term non-binary.

Timothy LeDuc said they were using their appearance at the Winter Olympics as a way to spread more awareness and start conversations about gender identity and expression.

“We’ve all been socialised in the same way to believe there is a man and a woman and everybody is going to fit neatly into those categories, so I am also learning with everyone else,” they said.

LeDuc continued: “I understand there is [a need] to take time out to explain and help everyone understand, but I’m willing to do it and I’m happy to do it because I know it helps push the conversation forward and makes the paths of other queer and non-binary people coming into sport maybe a little easier.”

Timothy LeDuc has been skating alongside Cain-Gribble since 2016, and LeDuc joked in an interview with CNN that the key to the pair’s success is “dad jokes and puns”.

Well, and of course, “a lot of hard work”, they added.

“We can work super hard and push ourselves beyond what we knew was possible,” LeDuc said.

Team USA's Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain-Gribble skate during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

Team USA’s Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain-Gribble skate during the Pair Skating Short Program at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games on 18 February 2022. (Getty/David Ramos)

Timothy LeDuc joins record-breaking number of LGBT+ athletes to compete in Olympics

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was the first openly trans athlete to compete in an Olympics, and skateboarder Alana Smith was the first openly non-binary US athlete to take part in the global games.

But Smith’s landmark performance in the women’s skateboarding street event was marred by sports commentators misgendering them throughout – despite Smith’s pronouns being etched onto their skateboard.

Footballer Quinn was the first out trans Olympic medal winner and the first out trans Olympic gold medallist after Canadian team’s victory in August.