Russian skating icon reacts as non-binary US star set for Olympics

Alexander Zhulin has reacted to the news of the first non-binary figure skater set to compete at the Olympics

Ice dancing icon Alexander Zhulin says he is confused by aspects of non-binary figure skater Timothy LeDuc’s participation at the Beijing Winter Olympics, although others from Russia have responded more positively to the American.

LeDuc is set to become the first openly non-binary athlete ever to compete at a Winter Games after being named on the American figure skating team for next month’s sporting showpiece in China.

The 31-year-old will team up with partner Ashley Cain-Gribble in the figure skating pairs, and said the hope was that “the narrative shifts more to [the idea] that 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,” added LeDuc, who as non-binary identifies as neither male nor female, and whose pronoun preferences are ‘they/them’.

The news has been met with confusion by some figures in Russia, including former ice dancing world champion Zhulin.    

“What category will he perform in – men’s or women’s? Paired with a woman? He himself is like a man… and initially he was a man, it turns out,” Zhulin, 58, told Vseprosport in his homeland.

“How do I feel about this? Oh, I don’t want to comment on these freaks,” added the two-time Olympic medalist, who became a prominent trainer and TV personality in Russia after his retirement.

But Zhulin’s stance was not matched by Russian former world and European ladies’ figure skating champion Maria Butyrskaya.

Speaking to RT Russian, she said LeDuc could bring extra attention to figure skating. 

“LeDuc’s story is trivial. Nevertheless, it’s probably good that he gave people a reason to discuss figure skating, even if it’s from this side,” said the 49-year-old. 

“Our sport is already popular, but let it become even more interesting because of this American.”

Butyrskaya was more supportive in her comments. © Sputnik

LeDuc, who is gay, is a two-time US champion and was part of the American team which won the ISU World Team Trophy in Japan in 2019.

LeDuc will be making an Olympic debut alongside partner Cain-Gribble at the Beijing Games after winning the pairs title at the US qualifying event in Nashville, Tennessee, earlier in January.

The Winter Games get underway in Beijing on February 4 and run until February 20.

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