Alexander Zhulin is not planning to back down amid accusations of insults towards a US skater
Russian former world ice dancing champion Alexander Zhulin has refused to apologize to American figure skater Timothy LeDuc, who is set to become the first non-binary athlete at the Winter Olympics.
LeDuc, who identifies as neither male nor female and prefers the pronouns ‘they/them’, is heading to the Beijing Games next month alongside pairs partner Ashley Cain-Gribble after their spot on the US team was confirmed.
LeDuc will become the first openly non-binary athlete to qualify for the Winter Olympics – but when asked about the American, Russian former ice dancing star Zhulin seemed confused.
“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,” the 58-year-old told Vseprosport.
“How do I feel about this? Oh, I don’t want to comment on these freaks,” added the two-time Olympic medalist.
The comments provoked online anger, with the likes of Canadian Olympic gold medalist Meagan Duhamel venting her dissatisfaction.
“How is this acceptable?? Why are we, in the sport of figure skating, accepting such outrageous and disgusting comments. I hope [the ISU] will do something to put an end to this!!” she fumed in a tweet.
Zhulin, who became a prominent trainer, choreographer and TV personality in Russia after his retirement, expressed regret at igniting the row – but said people shouldn’t expect an apology.
“I already regret that I said any of this, because there are a lot of idiots in our world,” he told Russian outlet Sport24.
“They wrote such things about me that you can’t imagine. And I’m not planning to apologize for my words.”
LeDuc and skating partner Cain-Gribble sealed their ticket to China after winning the pairs title at the US qualifying event in Nashville, Tennessee, earlier in January.
LeDuc, 31, said he hopes 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,” he added.
Some in Russia have voiced more positive sentiments than Zhulin, with former world and European ladies’ figure skating champion Maria Butyrskaya telling RT Russian that LeDuc could bring added attention to the sport.
“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 the American.”