This weekend in Nashville, Tennessee, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships took place for all disciplines: ice dance, women's and men's singles, and pairs skating. This being an Olympic year, the council also named athletes to the 2022 Olympic team, which saw ice skating pairs duo Timothy LeDuc and Ashley Cain-Gribble earn a spot on Team USA. LeDuc is the first openly gender nonbinary athlete to compete in the winter games and the first to win a national title (the pair also took gold at the national event).
The LeDuc/Cain-Gribble partnership isn't only unique for featuring a nonbinary athlete, their style of skating is unique and offers a modern perspective on the archaic, antiquated notion of gender stereotypes and roles, especially within the world of artistic partner sport (as also seen across ballet, ballroom dance, and ice dance disciplines). Though skating has evolved and it is more common to see women's skating costumes consist of pants and bodysuits as opposed to strictly short skating dresses, it's still not entirely welcome in some circles to deviate from the "traditional stereotypes" of skating.
On the NBCLX podcast My New Favorite Olympian, LeDuc said, "There are going to be the people that don't understand it or would be very quick to push me back into the box. They see that I have a beard, or they look at maybe my physical characteristics and say, 'You're a boy; act like a boy. What are you doing?'"
In an explosive free skate, both Leduc and their partner Cain-Gribble demonstrated a high level of artistry and grace as well as a technical mastery of the sport. In typical pairings, the male skates from a place of power while the female is the delicate, lilting flower full of grace and sweetness; that's not the case for Cain-Gribble and LeDuc.
At 5'6" and not a delicate body type (unlike the typical five-foot-nothing, extra small dainty looking female skaters), Cain-Gribble skates with power in her own right but still retains grace and artistry. In fact, both she and LeDuc skate with the same amount of grace, artistry, and passion that's clear from the moment they take the ice all the way to the kiss and cry. That's because their characters on the ice are the same as them; it's the truth of the pair being genuinely themselves that translates into a mastery of the artistic element of the sport on the ice.
"When Timothy and I teamed up, we never wanted to be what was looked at as the traditional team," Cain-Gribble said on the podcast. "They always had the storyline of the male is super masculine and strong and always just to come in and save the girl who is a wilted little flower and is weak, or it was a full-on love story, where obviously a male and a female fall in love with each other."
LeDuc picked up on that and added, "I don't think Ashley was really ever interested in being the fragile girl; she's such a powerful, amazing athlete. So for her, when I kind of came to her and said, 'You know, I don't really want to do this romantic style. It doesn't really seem like us,' she was like, 'Heck yeah, I'm good with that.'"
In this partnership, there are no typical skating gender roles that have exclusively been seen until now; they are both matched in power, finesse, and grace – which is rare to see on both sides: the female skater is rarely allowed to show power and strength, while the male is expected to step aside and let her be the graceful one. Their fusion style combining both gender roles and distributing the characteristics evenly creates a dynamic, unique style for Cain-Gribble and LeDuc that has a good chance in the 2022 Olympics next month in Beijing.