Andrew Blaser didn’t start competing in skeleton until adulthood. But the out gay U.S. Olympian made his mark, complete with painted fingernails and a rainbow saddle on his sled.
But now, after more than 10 years of shooting his body down sheets of ice, Blaser is retiring. The lifelong athlete made his announcement on Instagram.
“After 2 world championship races and 1 Olympic games race, 10 years of sliding members and countless bumps and bruises, it’s time to take my leave from this crazy sport of skeleton. I am officially retired (at least for now 🤣)” he wrote.
“Anyone who knows me has heard me ‘retire’ or quit countless times so I know not everyone believes this, however it’s true. Skeleton has brought me some of the best memories and some of the hardest obstacles that I will forever be grateful for. I have met people I will call my close friends for the rest of my life. I am full of gratitude for the experiences and what I have learned about myself through this crazy experience. I don’t know what the future holds but right now I am focused on finishing my masters degree and seeing where the wind blows me.”
Blaser, 34, was a standout track star in high school and competed as a freshman at the University of Louisville, where he set a school record in the heptathlon, a track and field contest comprised of seven events.
But the Idaho native only stayed down south for one year before transferring to the University of Idaho.
Back home, he won six individual conference titles, and raked up 10 outdoor All-Western Athletic Conference honors and seven indoor All-WAC honors. Both feats are school records.
Are you sensing a pattern?
Growing up in a sports-driven Mormon family, athletics were always part of Blaser’s life. Though he signed on as a coach on Utah State’s track team post-graduation, he still wanted to compete.
After months of trial and error, he settled on skeleton, an extreme sport where competitors slide headfirst down an ice track at roughly 80 MPH.
He says the sport’s intensity brought him mental clarity, especially as he was figuring out his sexuality.
“Skeleton allowed me that freedom for two minutes a day, those became the most valuable two minutes a day for me to get me through some stuff,” he told the Daily Beast. “To help me get to a place that I was OK not being OK.”
Blaser came out to his family about eight years ago, which wasn’t easy. He expected the worst.
“I kind of operated like a Doomsday prepper,” he said. “I was convinced that my family was gonna hate me when I was initially dealing with it, and then I got really good at kind of protecting myself from that situation that I was so afraid of.”
While Blaser’s family didn’t hate him, they didn’t immediately embrace him, either. But tension waned over time, with his mother even sending him Dustin Lance Black‘s memoir, in which the screenwriter chronicles his relationship with his mother growing up as a gay mormon.
After coming out to his family, Blaser’s skeleton career took off. He prides himself on looking unique, whether it’s painting his fingernails blue (for the American flag) or wearing a snakeskin suit.
Competing at the Beijing Olympics, Blaser put a rainbow saddle on his sled. It was a clever way to circumvent the IOC’s ban on protests and demonstrations inside Olympic venues, and celebrate his LGBTQ+ identity.
“It just felt right to put rainbow tape on and have a little bit more of, like, kind of expression of myself, my personality, and things that make me me, and to have that mean something to other people was unexpected,” he said.
Though Blaser placed 21st in his event, he still made history as the first Olympic single male skeleton rider in U.S. history.
But he found the experience to be underwhelming, due to strict COVID restrictions and other logistical issues.
“When you’re not really in a medal hunt and you’re there for the experience, and the experience isn’t what you might expect, it was pretty heavy for me,” Blaser told Outsports.
Blaser had a better time competing at the World Cup the following year in Germany. “There was a moment in Altenberg (Germany) when a switch flipped in my head and I didn’t have to be there, I wanted to be there,” he said.
Now retired, he’s free to do whatever pleases. We know that enjoying his life, and spreading LGBTQ+ visibility, is at the top of his list.