ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Adam Rippon stepped onto the ice for his free skate Sunday at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, he knew what Nathan Chen and Max Aaron had done just before him.
Chen, Rippon’s 16-year-old training partner, had become the first American skater to land four quadruple jumps in a routine at the U.S. championships, while Aaron, the leader after the short program, landed two quads and made only minor mistakes.
“I knew exactly what was going on,” Rippon said. “It didn’t change what I wanted to do and what I needed to do when I went out there.”
What Rippon wanted to do was start his performance with a quad of his own, a Lutz, but that left him sliding on his side. What Rippon needed to do was keep performing, and that’s what he did — building up the momentum over his four-and-a-half-minute skate until he ended as national champion.
“I talked with my coach before I came here, Rafael Arutunian, and he told me that I had one goal: It was to skate clean and to perform,” said Rippon, who scored 270.75 points skating to a Beatles medley. “I knew after I made the opening mistake that I needed to skate clean and perform, and I was really glad that I was able to do that today and come out on top and finally be national champion.”
The national title was a long time coming for Rippon, 26, who won a junior national title in 2008 but has finished as high as second and as low as eighth on the senior level in the years since. But the victory wasn’t without distractions.
As Rippon took his seat for the press conference in the bowels of the Xcel Energy Center, the questions were less about what he had achieved and more about the jump he failed to land — but that second-place Aaron (269.55 points) and third-place Chen (266.93) had landed more than once. (On Friday, Chen also became the first U.S. man to land two quads in the short program at a national championships.)
Four-rotation jumps have become a standard element among the world’s elite men’s skaters, and even Rippon admitted that successful quads would be necessary in order to reach the medal stand at the World Figure Skating Championships this spring in Boston. No U.S. man has medaled at a worlds or Olympic Winter Games since 2010, when Evan Lysacek won an Olympic gold medal.
“My coach is going to drill me into the ground so I will have the best quads of my life by the time we get to Boston,” said Rippon, who will join Aaron and Chen at the world championships.
But don’t think that means Rippon was apologizing for his performance this week in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“I don’t know what everybody else is going to do, and I can’t control that,” he said. “If Nathan does four quads or if Max does five, I’m not going to do six. I know that’s not what’s going to happen. The only thing I can do is make sure that I’m aggressive on everything.”
That’s what he did on Sunday.
As John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s voices echoed throughout the arena, fans clapped to the beat and cheered as Rippon did what he does best: sell his program with artistry and dramatic flair.
Perhaps Rippon is a traditionalist; maybe he’s trying in vain to hold back time as his competitors around the world push the limits with more and more quads. But as he celebrated his first national title, he made a case for performances like his on Sunday.
“I feel that to make a well-rounded competition, it takes all sorts of competitors, and I feel that there’s room for everybody,” Rippon said. “If everybody could skate exactly like Yuzuru (Hanyu, the Japanese Olympic and world champion), the competition would be boring.”