by Lois Elfman
In the sport of figure skating, people wait to see a performance that comes out of nowhere and lifts the audience out of their seats. The best ones have beautifully landed jumps, fast spins, exquisite musical interpretation and an undeniable energy level. At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, that is precisely what Adam Rippon delivered.
“I reminded myself throughout the program, ‘Stay in the moment.’ Before I knew it, all the jumps were over and everything was done. It was a great moment for me and for my coaching team. It was great to have my mom there as well. Culmination of a lot of years of hard work,” said Rippon.
“The event was incredibly skated by everybody,” he added. “Regardless of placement, it was the moment. I think every skater they strive more so for those moments than anything else.”
Rippon won the free skate and finished second overall behind first-time champion Jason Brown. It was not Rippon’s first time on the senior podium—he also finished second in 2012—but this time it was a breakthrough after a rather long period of frustration.
A two-time World Junior Men’s Champion, Rippon, 25, has struggled to find his footing at the senior level. Eighth at the 2014 U.S. Championships, he didn’t skate well on the Grand Prix circuit last fall, leaving people wondering why he was continuing to compete. He admitted he was one of his own worst critics, even wondering about his age and motivation, until he focused on the positives.
“I don’t feel old and I don’t think that I am old,” said Rippon. “I have more to give. I definitely feel my age and the experiences that I have had make me a better competitor. Being an adult and doing things on your own—paying for your own training, scheduling your own things and driving yourself places—you get a lot of confidence from being accountable for all of those things and making them happen. You feel like you can kind of deal with everything, deal with whatever circumstances you’re handed. That gives you confidence as well.”
Rippon said he wondered if he was still improving, and realized he was. Together with his main coach, Rafael Arutunian, assistant coaches and trainer, he worked out a plan six weeks prior to the U.S. Championships, to which he strictly adhered.
He never thought past the nationals, so when he went to compete shortly after at the ISU Four Continents Championships, he wasn’t in perfect form, finishing 10th. Thankfully, the World Championships in Shanghai, China, aren’t until the end of March, so despite a bout of flu, Rippon has ample time to prepare physically and mentally.
“I said, ‘I’m going to give 100 percent [at Nationals],’” Rippon said. “I’m not going to think about what I am going to do after this competition. I’m just going to think about this one competition.
“Hindsight is always 20/20,” he continued. “I probably should have reconsidered Four Continents because of how emotional and how much energy Nationals took from me. I did my best, but there was a lot that happened.”
Last year, Rippon and close friend Ashley Wagner, who won her third U.S. Ladies title in Greensboro, attended the Academy Awards. This year, he watched from home, which suited him just fine. Now living in Los Angeles for nearly two years, he saw how the city virtually closed down for the Oscars.
Feeling he’s in some of the best shape of his life, Rippon is now putting his laser focus on Worlds.
“Four Continents wasn’t a reflection of [my conditioning], but my confidence isn’t hurt from it because I know everything that Nationals was,” he said. “It was hard to come back from that. I came home, I’m refocusing and getting a plan together.
“The end of the season is a culmination of a lot of hard work,” he added. “If you can learn something from your disappointments, then you can continue to grow. There’s no one set script as to how your career is supposed to pan out. It’s all a mindset.”