Adam Carlson
February 11, 2018 10:52 PM

Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon loves Twitter — and it loves him right back.

Minutes after a free skate in the figure skating team event on Monday morning (Sunday night stateside) at the Winter Games in South Korea and Rippon was already a trending topic on the site in the U.S. Users were alternately basking in his third-place finish and confusedly wondering how he came in behind Mikhail Kolyada, the Olympic athlete from Russia.

Less than a point separated them (though to judge solely by the audience’s reaction in the 12,000-seat Gangneung Ice Arena, Rippon, 28, appeared to have the more compelling skate).

“I can’t control the score,” he tells PEOPLE not long after leaving the rink. Then he wryly adds, “But to the people that were distressed — I hope maybe you can be on a judging panel someday.”

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Speaking to reporters after he competed, Rippon said he was proud of his Olympic debut, both for himself and for what it contributed to America’s chances of a podium spot in the team event.

“I’m really excited that I was able to kind of go out there, show who I am, skate so strong,” he said, “and more than that, I really hope I can help Team USA get a medal today.”

Skating first to The Cinematic Orchestra’s “Arrival of the Birds” and then to “O” by Coldplay, and while he admitted to an attack of nerves just before taking the ice, Rippon seemed to skate without a hitch. As he finished, to waves of applause from the crowd, the moment caught up with him and celebration broke across his face.

“I hope there’s a skating judge who’s like, ‘Uh hey guys, Adam Rippon didn’t give us quads but he did give us THE TRUTH,’ ” writer Louis Virtel tweeted.

Adam Rippon during his free skate at the figure skating team event in the 2018 Winter Olympics
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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In recent days Rippon has become something of a social media sensation, both among spectators at home and celebrities (including Reese Witherspoon) who are charmed by his drive, wit and candor.

An alternate at the 2010 Winter Games who missed the cut in 2014, and already a history-maker for being the first openly gay man to compete for America in the Winter Olympics, Rippon said later that what he has accomplished in spite of his age — skating, as ever, privileges youth — and other obstacles is a victory he will never lose.

He has also not shied away from the role fame gives him as an advocate for the broader LGBTQ community.

PEOPLE’s special issue The Best of Olympic Figure Skating is available now in the Time Inc. store, on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.

“I came here to do a job,” he said, “and I think that being vocal has kind of given my skating more importance. It’s not just for me. I got out there because — it’s not just gay kids, I think that everybody can relate to being different or feeling like they’re not good enough or they’ll never make it because they’re from a small town, or maybe they just don’t feel like they’re good enough.”

“Well I had those doubts too,” Rippon continued. “And I say that I can go out there and I want to show those young kids that anything is possible. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what other people say about you, you can put that all behind you and you can go out there and show the world what you have to offer.”

Adam Rippon
Mitchell Haaseth/NBC

And while he joked with PEOPLE about his impending individual mens performance (“I definitely want to get a few more points, talk to those people on Twitter”), he did not let the significance of the day slip past him.

“This is a moment I’ve been waiting for my entire life,” he said. “Now I’m actually an Olympian. They have footage, they can pull it up. We love the records. Let the record show: Adam Rippon is an Olympian.”

The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.

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