- Figure Skating
On the rise, Rippon hears Olympic roar
Give Adam Rippon the opportunity to have one super power and the 24-year-old American doesn’t miss a beat.
“I would fly,” says the Scranton, Pa., native, laughing at himself. “I wouldn’t tell anyone so that I could float through all of my jumps. That wouldn’t be cheating, right?”
It probably would be cheating, but Rippon hasn’t needed such a power so far during figure skating’s Grand Prix season. The skater who worked alongside 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim in the past is suddenly part of the Sochi conversation: Adam could be going to the Olympics.
“There’s definitely no names assigned to the teams and nobody who thinks that they’re a shoo-in or a lock for the team,” says Rippon, who was second at the U.S. Championships in 2012. “I think that puts me in a good standing.”
Rippon threw American skating into disorder last month at Skate America in Detroit, beating reigning U.S. champion Max Aaron in the opening Grand Prix of the year, and thrusting his own name into a two-spot conversation that had long been dominated by Aaron, 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and three-time U.S. winner Jeremy Abbott.
“I feel like I’m in a great position to not only make the Olympic team, but be the national champion and the number one guy for the U.S. team.”
Long a name floating on the fringes of skating in the U.S., Rippon was a two-time junior world champion leading into a fifth-place finish at the 2010 U.S. Championships, an event he said he went to just for the experience.
“I felt like my only way to get to [the Vancouver Olympics] was if people messed up,” Rippon remembers. “I just went there to do my best.”
Now his best, Rippon feels, is good enough to fly him to Sochi, a long journey from the disappointing fifth place he found himself in again at the U.S. Championships this past January.
“I was a dark horse, and I fell out of the good graces of many people, but I want to show everyone that I’m a fighter,” Rippon explains after his Skate America silver medal. “I’m a very strong competitor, and I’m very serious about this season and accomplishing my goals for the rest of the year.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Team USA: Figure skaters to watch
Each winter in Pennsylvania, Adam would make a once-a-year trip with his mother to Montage Mountain, a local outdoor rink that was simply a frozen-over baseball field. Adam hated it.
“It was so cold,” says Rippon, who is the oldest of six kids. “I would just eat the snow off of my gloves and ask my mom, ‘Can we leave yet?’ ‘Can I have a hot chocolate?' 'I just want a pretzel.’”
Hot chocolate in hand, Rippon first watched figure skating on TV in 1998, when Tara Lipinski edged out Michelle Kwan in dramatic fashion. But for Rippon, it didn’t translate.
“I had no idea who they were or what they were doing but I was watching with my mom and I fell asleep,” he says, chuckling. “That was my first experience of watching figure skating -- it put me to sleep.”
But eventually the sport awakened something in Adam, going from a frozen baseball field to indoor group and then private lessons, eventually commuting over two hours to New Jersey for work with a professional coach before he moved -- all alone -- to Toronto, to work with former Olympian Brian Orser, who also coached Yuna Kim.
“When I skated with Yuna every day, I would see that she was human and she was my friend,” says Rippon, who is now based in Los Angeles. “Then suddenly she went to Vancouver and she won the Olympics.”
Winning the Olympics might be a dream more than a goal for Rippon, but he was fourth at the NHK Trophy in early November, beating Aaron once again and solidifying himself as a true contender for Sochi.
One reason for that is his new coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, who also works with two-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, who Rippon says is “like a sister.”
“What Rafael does that I really respond to is that he terrifies me everyday,” says Rippon. “He’s definitely pushed me to be tougher.”
It was a tough start for Rippon as a child, who was born deaf and had three major surgeries before the age of six.
But for a kid who once couldn’t hear, Rippon knows the sounds that would reverberate around the Iceberg Skating Palace should he be there in February. He has a super power to envision what it would be like.
“I think about everyone standing up cheering when I’m in that last position,” Rippon says, picturing himself in Sochi. “I can see it from my eyes out and I can see it from the public eyes in -- I know that feeling. I can hear it. Everything I’m training for is to make that happen. That’s what all my work is for.”
Embedded video_content_type: Rippon's off-ice candor: 'Hey Scott Hamilton!'
St. Louis photographer
Best of Sochi