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Adam Rippon: “I always knew I had it in me to be U.S. Champion”

By Figure Skaters Online
Featured photo by Getty Images

Eight years after Adam Rippon won the U.S. Junior Men’s title at the 2008 U.S. Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, he returned to St. Paul as a two-time national silver medalist (2012 and 2015), looking to win his first gold medal at the Senior level at the age of 26.  He succeeded in his lofty goal and subsequently took some time to answer our questions ahead of his fourth trip to the World Championships, to be held in Boston, Massachusetts, March 28-April 3, 2016.

Figure Skaters Online (FSO): How did it feel to win your first U.S. Championship men’s title? Was it everything you hoped it would be?

Adam Rippon (AR): It has been an amazing feeling that still hasn’t completely hit me yet. I always knew I had it in me to be U.S. Champion. This win means so much to me because of the journey and struggles I’ve had getting to this point.

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FSO: After you finished your free skate, what was going through your head? Did you think you had done enough to win the title?

AR: I heard the scores of my competitors. I usually always listen for them just to hear how the event is going. I knew no one had posted a free skate score that I posted last year so I knew there was still room. At the end of my free skate, I felt I had a solid quad Lutz attempt and that the rest of the performance was strong. I hoped it was enough and I hoped the overall quality of my skating, elements and performance would prevail.

FSO: As a veteran skater who had considered leaving the sport, what kept you motivated to continue your pursuit for the title?

AR: I had thoughts about retiring. There are moments when I still feel that way. Skating is a very demanding sport and the demands are ever increasing. What helped me push through was when I finally focused on myself and my own journey. I reminded myself I was so lucky to be doing what I love every day. I also told myself that if I felt I was still improving, I should continue so that I would never look back and think that I had more to give.

FSO: Has there been any one serious moment and/or fun incident since Nationals so far in which it really and truly hit you that you are the 2016 national champion?

AR: My mom and I had a funny moment when we both confessed to each other a few weeks after Nationals was over that we both were having the same dream that they changed the scores and I wasn’t the winner anymore! After we talked, it hit me that, by now, the results are official and I can probably not worry about that anymore (laughs).

Courtesy: Leah Adams

FSO: You train with U.S. bronze medalist Nathan Chen (pictured at right on the 2016 Nationals podium) who made history by landing four quads in his free skate. What is it like to train with someone who is being called the future of the sport? How does Nathan push you and how have you been able to help Nathan?

AR: It’s inspiring and frustrating, haha! He pushed me to strive and make my technical elements better, but he also pushes me to improve other aspects of my skating. Nathan is a wonderful athlete and is a huge motivating factor in my practices. Because I am almost 10 years older than him, I feel like a role model and try my best every day to be a leader.

FSO: You’ve mentioned that your coach, Rafael Arutunian, advised you not to compete at the Four Continents Championships in order to rest and better prepare for Worlds. Can you elaborate further?

AR: I think rest before Worlds is incredibly important. I am in good shape, but I don’t feel like I was in my best condition at the U.S. Championships. Not going to Four Continents gave me the chance to really work on my strength and conditioning on and off the ice. I felt it was important that I had a solid 7-8 weeks of training without interruption.

FSO: How important is your off-ice training with Denys Petrov to your on-ice success? What contributions he has made since you began working with him almost 1.5 years ago?

AR: It has been life changing. Denys has done so much for me off the ice. He pushes me to places I don’t even believe I can get to. This gives me such mental strength along with the physical. I feel like a real athlete. I also feel like a new athlete. When I started working with Denys, he believed in what we were doing and that helped me to believe in myself again. We started working together when I was at my lowest [in late 2014] and to see how far we’ve come in just a year is motivating. I feel stronger than I’ve ever felt before and I really owe a lot of that to Denys.

FSO: Derrick Delmore (pictured below reacting to Adam’s free skate scores) appeared as a new member of your team at Nationals. What specific skating role does he have?

adam_getty3AR: Derrick is one of my best friends and I really felt that in the high pressure situation of Nationals, I needed that support. Derrick is an amazing coach himself so I always feel very comfortable when he has something to suggest. He knows the rules very well and helps me strategize. I loved having Rafael, Vera [Arutunian], Nadia [Kanaeva], and Derrick all with me at Nationals. They all play a really important role in my skating.

FSO: How would you describe the individual roles Rafael Arutunian, Vera Arutunian and Nadia Kanaeva each have in your daily/overall training?

Rafael is my head coach. When I want to make a plan for the season, I always sit down with him and we figure out the best way for us to achieve the goals we set out. Vera is always keeping an eye on me and making sure that I don’t get lazy with choreography, hold my spins, and we work on polishing different parts of my programs. I work with Nadia on different exercises to help with jumps and skating skills.

FSO: This will be your fourth time competing at Worlds. With the World Championships in Boston this year, how is this Worlds going to be different for you, especially coming in as the U.S. Champion?

AR: This Worlds will be a great one. This arena in Boston [TD Garden] is where I almost ended my skating career. After a career worst finish [8th place] at the U.S. Championships in 2014, I found myself way off the Olympic team and not knowing where to go from there. I feel very fortunate that I have the chance to go back and make things right in the same arena.

FSO: You have helped the U.S. men keep three Worlds spots twice (2010 and 2015). How do you answer the inevitable “can you help retain those three spots?” question?

AR: Retaining the three spots is not my focus. Skating my absolute best is my only focus and I know if I can do that, a good result will follow.

Courtesy: Leah Adams
Courtesy: Leah Adams

FSO: What is your goal for Worlds?

AR: Two lights out performances that end in standing ovations.

FSO: What do you think it will be like to perform in front a home country audience at Worlds?

AR: I think it will be magical. It brings back memories of watching Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek winning world titles in Washington, D.C. [2003] and Los Angeles [2009].

FSO:: Any plans to change your hair color for Worlds?

AR: I’m staying with what I’ve got. It seems fitting for the rest of the year.

FSO: You are getting to skate in STARS ON ICE for the first time as a regular cast member. How did you feel when they asked you to be a part of the cast for this iconic show? What are you looking forward to about performing on tour?

AR: I felt vindicated. I have been wanting to be a part of this tour for so long and it is a dream come true. I’m most looking forward to being announced as National Champion every night before I perform.

FSO:: Is there a story behind your new exhibition music and program to Coldplay’s “O (Fly On)” for the upcoming Stars on Ice tour? How did your collaboration with Benji Schwimmer come about?

AR: Benji and I have been friends for years. We somehow never worked together and I finally felt it was time. This program I did with Benji is a piece that I want to use to help me transition into next season. The main theme of the program is that I’m a bird with a broken wing. I love the symbolism of this because I feel in a way we all have broken wings, but it doesn’t have to stop us from flying.

FSO: What do you like about the process of coaching and choreographing for others? Is this something you can see yourself doing as a full-time job in the future?

AR: I did [2016 U.S. Novice Ladies competitor] Marina Capatina’s choreography for her short and a bit of her long program last season. I work with some other skaters as well when I have the time. It’s something I enjoy doing a lot. Anything to stay on the ice. 🙂 I can absolutely see this as my future full-time job. I love working with skaters and helping them achieve their goals. It’s such a rewarding process to see a skater land a jump for the first time or skate to music they love and feel good about themselves.

FSO: Are you planning to do any traveling after the season? If so, where are you looking to go?

AR: As of now, just skating related travels. I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world (Los Angeles area) and so if I have the chance to go outside and go to the beach, I am happy.

FSO: Growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, what do you miss most about it? What don’t you miss? What do you like the most about being a Californian now?

AR: I miss the pizza. Actually, I miss pizza in general. I DO NOT miss the snow. California feels like home. When I fly into LAX [airport], it feels like I’m coming home. I still have the same feelings when I go back to Pennsylvania because that’s where I am from, but I feel like I did my most growing up in LA. I’m here to stay… at least for a little while.

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