NewsFigure Skating

At 24, Out And Proud Amber Glenn Is Ready To Shine

by Lynn Rutherford

Amber Glenn celebrates becoming the first openly LGTBQ+ U.S. women's figure skating champion during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 26, 2024 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Getty Images)

For Amber Glenn, showing her authentic self to the figure skating world is more essential than the triple axel she used to win her first U.S. title last month in Columbus, Ohio.

During press conferences, a heart-shaped Pride pin adorned her Team USA jacket. A Progress Pride flag draped her shoulders as she took her victory laps. And the audience waved flags of their own, embracing the first openly LGBTQ+ U.S. women’s champion.

“When I go out there, and I see the signs and the flags and how excited people are, I just feel them with me in the performance,” the Plano, Texas, native said. “Sometimes, that does add extra pressure, but I feel like it also lifts me up at the same time.”

Then, the realization hits: Some people still prefer the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Just days after her triumph, while searching for her free skate on YouTube, Glenn instead found a video chastising her for cramming her sexuality “down our throats” and calling the flag “idiotic.”

“Over the years, I’ve gotten plenty of hate and criticism online,” Glenn wrote on Instagram, after urging her followers not to watch the video. “The Progressive Pride flag is the furthest thing from idiotic. It advocates for progress.”

The contrasting emotions — from joy to a gut punch — are a recurring theme of Glenn’s career. At 24, she is still developing her talents, still improving in a sport that often favors teenagers, including Isabeau Levito, the 16-year-old defending U.S. champion who placed third in Columbus. For Glenn, it has been a bumpy, decade-long ride.

“Of course, I would like to go back in time and be able to give the knowledge I have now to my younger self and save myself a lot of heartache and a lot of pain,” she said. “But I’ve been through what I’ve been through. I’m stronger because of it. I’m wiser and I plan on continuing to grow.”

Damon Allen, her primary coach in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said Glenn “wasn’t quite mentally ready to be a national champion” in previous years.

“And all things kind of happen for a reason,” he said. “Now, I’m blessed and lucky to have her as an athlete. She comes to every (training) session with a clear list of what she wants to accomplish, and she gets it done.”

Amber Glenn skates in the women's free skate during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 26, 2024 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Getty Images)

Glenn’s skating stood out even at the junior level. Her jumps had snap and power, and she was fast, already a compelling presence at age 13. U.S. titles, and perhaps world medals, appeared within her grasp.

Then, in 2014, Glenn won the U.S. junior crowd, igniting hopes that inconsistent performances soon doused. A year later, battling depression and anxiety, she took a break from the sport.

“Ten years ago, I won the junior (title), and the world of expectations were put upon me, and it crushed me,” she said.

Over the next few seasons, Glenn climbed the ranks in fits and starts. Injuries intruded. In 2019, she came out as bisexual and pansexual. That was followed by her best finish yet at the national championships, taking fifth in 2020.

“When I came out initially, I was terrified. I was scared it would affect my scores or something, but I didn’t care,” she said. “It was worth it to see the amount of young people who felt more comfortable in their environments at the rink, who feel, ‘Oh, I’m represented by her, and she’s one of the top skaters.’”

Glenn was not the first female U.S. figure skater to come out. Ice dancer Karina Manta, who competed internationally for the U.S. with partner Joseph Johnson, preceded her in 2018.

“I feel quite proud seeing Amber become national champion,” Manta said. “When I came out, I didn’t know any woman competing who was publicly queer. That was quite scary. … There was this fear of, one, being alone, and two, not knowing how it would affect you in the skating world, which is already quite difficult even without being different in a sort of tangible way.”

In 2021, after winning the U.S. silver medal, Glenn was bypassed for the world team in favor of bronze medalist Karen Chen. The next season, she lost a chance at the 2022 Olympics when she placed 14th in the short program at the U.S. championships, then withdrew due to COVID-19.

After that disappointment, Glenn said, “I kind of had to figure out everything from the ground up, completely restart.” It led her to Colorado Springs, where she moved in the spring of 2022 to train under Allen and Tammy Gambill.

“When we first started working together, I asked her how she trained leading up to (events), what she did when it came to full run-throughs and simulations, and she kind of looked at me like, ‘Full run-throughs?’” Allen said. “So, that was one thing we started doing these last two seasons, run-throughs from beginning to end.”

Amber Glenn skates in the women's short program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 25, 2024 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Getty Images)

The approach led her to the U.S. bronze medal last season and her first world championships, where she placed 12th. Training in Colorado Springs’ mile-high altitude, she perfected her triple axel, the three-and-a-half revolution jump only three other U.S. women have landed in international competition. Glenn first hit the jump in her free skate at Skate America in October and has since done it two other times in competition.

“She’s the fittest she has ever been, she’s the smartest she has ever been about training, and I feel like that’s given her the confidence to do triple axel,” Allen said. “Plus, her technique with the axel is spot-on. … Skate America was the first time she really hit it. Now, that monkey is off her back, and it’s just another element in the program.”

After the U.S. championships, Glenn was slated to compete at the Four Continents Championships in Shanghai, but withdrew to focus on training for the world championships, which will be held March 18-24 in Montreal.

“(Winning the U.S. title) is such a huge success for me, but I know that I’m capable of so much more,” Glenn said. “So, it’s a mix of being extremely grateful for the result, but also knowing I can do so much better.”

In Columbus, Glenn hit a clean short program, including a solid triple flip-triple toe loop combination. Much of her free skate, choreographed by Katherine Hill to “Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3” by Muse, was electrifying, including the opening triple axel, but she faltered on two jump elements in the second half. Josephine Lee, then 15, defeated both Glenn and Levito in the free skate, and won the silver medal.

To contend for a medal in Montreal, Glenn will likely have to skate both of her programs clean, something she has rarely done. Allen thinks it is possible.

“We will sit down this week and strategize the recovery and how to ramp up (for worlds),” Allen said. “We’ll try to keep it business as usual, training the way we’ve been training up to all these events. We’re not trying to fix anything or do anything different.”

Manta, like Glenn’s many other fans, will be rooting her on.

“I definitely think it’s important for younger queer skaters to be able to see themselves in elite competitors, and I think Amber, especially, takes such care in being a positive role model,” she said. “It can also be quite meaningful for older skaters who didn’t have the opportunity to be out, to see that it’s now possible.”