The US figure skaters striving to be their “true selves” in a sport that often carries stereotypes

Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc are preparing to compete in their first Winter Olympics next week – the pinnacle of their eventful, and often challenging, figure skating careers.

LeDuc left professional skating for two years in 2014 and spent time working on a cruise ship, while Cain-Gribble was ready to retire from skating before switching from singles to pairs with LeDuc in 2016.

At times, both have found themselves at odds with skating’s norms: Cain-Gribble because of her physique (at five-foot-six she is taller than most women competing in pairs skating) and LeDuc, who identifies as gay and nonbinary, because of their sexuality.

“For a long time, Timothy and I didn’t see ourselves represented, and so we didn’t quite feel like we belonged,” Cain-Gribble told CNN ahead of the Games.

“And for a long time, people had things to say about us. Even when we teamed up, they had a lot of things to say about my body or about Timothy’s sexuality. People still will make those comments.”

But together, the pair have forged what Cain-Gribbe calls “a very inclusive environment,” veering away from some of figure skating’s long-standing traditions in order to be their “true selves.”

That involves performing a lot of the same moves in their routines, wearing the same colors and patterns and choosing not to portray romantic stories.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with those stories, but often they’re centralized and seen as the only narratives that you can portray, the only story that’s worthy of being a champion or being successful,” LeDuc told CNN.

“Ashley and I are just different in that way; we’ve never done a romantic story and we’ve never been a romantic pair. We’ve always been about equality and showing two amazing athletes coming together to create something beautiful.”

Having won the US national title last month, Cain-Gribble and LeDuc – who is set to become the first out, nonbinary athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics, according to Team USA – will compete in the pairs competition in Beijing when it gets underway on February 18.

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