updated 01/02/2014 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 01/02/2014 AT 10:30 AM ET
What finally made Brian Boitano come out?
Turns out, President Obama had something to do with it.
During an appearance on Thursday’s Today show, the figure skating gold medalist – whom the president recently appointed to the U.S. delegation for the 2014 Sochi Olympics – said: “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.’ ”
“I think the message is so strong,” added Boitano, 50. “I always wanted to represent my country as best I could. And I knew that I had to go past my comfort zone and reveal a private side of my life that I’ve never done before because I felt that the message is so strong.”
During the interview – Boitano’s first major sit-down since he announced on Dec. 19 that he is gay – Lauer candidly admitted, “Can I say, and please don’t take this the wrong way, I wasn’t shocked.”
Boitano laughed and agreed that he has never hidden his identity.
“First of all, the reaction has been fantastic and really supportive, but I never really felt that I had to [come out],” he said. “I have 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.”
Boitano said he doesn’t feel he needs to make an additional statement against Russia’s anti-gay laws once he and the delegation arrive in Russia for the Feb. 7 Opening Ceremony.
“You know, I think we have to be careful once we get over there. I think the statement is already being made by us being on the delegation and [tennis legend] Billie Jean [King] and [hockey medalist] Caitlin [Cahow] and us standing together united as gay people showing that there is freedom of speech and we are successful human beings and athletes – and I think that that speaks measures.”