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Brian Boitano says U.S. delegation has to be careful in Sochi (video)

Jan 2, 2014, 10:16 AM EDT

Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano expressed gratitude and caution in his first interview since being named to the White House delegation to Sochi and coming out as gay two weeks ago.

“When the president named the delegation, and I read in the news what his message was of tolerance and diversity, I thought I have to take this opportunity [to come out],” Boitano said on TODAY on Thursday. “I think the message is so strong, I’ve always wanted to represent my country as best I could. I knew that I had to go past my comfort zone and reveal a private side of my life that I had never done before because I felt that the message is so strong.”

Boitano and two other gay athletes — two-time Olympic hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow and tennis legend Billie Jean King — were among the delegation named by president Barack Obama on Dec. 17.

“I was so honored to be asked by the White House,” Boitano said. “Going through the whole vetting process and being named to the delegation, it was really interesting because I didn’t know who was going to be on the delegation or any part of it.”

He’s set to travel to Sochi the day before the Opening Ceremony. His actions will be scrutinized in Russia, where a law is in place banning the promotion of non-traditional sexual relations toward minors.

“I think that we have to be careful once we go over there,” Boitano said. “I think the statement is already being made by us being on the delegation — Billie Jean and Caitlin — and us standing together, united as gay people showing that there is freedom of speech and we are successful human beings and athletes. I think that speaks measures.”

Boitano urged freedom of expression for anybody in Sochi, though.

“I encourage everybody to do what they feel is best for themselves,” he said. “I never thought that I would be coming out in this way. In a matter of 10 hours, I decided to do it. That was what was right for me at this time. I tell everybody that I think that they should do what’s right for them at their correct time.”

Boitano, 50, came out publicly two days after he was named to the delegation. He said his life has changed and the reaction has been fantastic and supportive.

“I really never felt that I had to [come out publicly],” he said. “I’ve always been a private person. I’ve kept my private side of my life special for family and friends who really knew me. I’ve never been ashamed of who I was. I’ve always been open with them, so I really didn’t feel that there was a need. I’m just a private guy. I realize that there was a public side of my life and a private side. I’ve always chosen to keep my sexuality private.”

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