BOSTON – The last time Adam Rippon performed a short program at Boston’s TD Garden, he finished sixth and would end the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in eighth overall. Two years later, Rippon showed up to the venue a completely different skater and finished seventh in the men’s short program at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships to a standing ovation Wednesday night.
Rippon’s 85.72 was not more than eight points higher than his score from nationals two years prior, but it was a career-best short program score at an international competition. It was also the start of what could rival his career-best worlds placement, sixth in 2010.
“I’m so different,” Rippon, 26, said of the last time he competed at TD Garden. “The last time I competed here in the Garden, I was terrible. I wanted to post a picture on Instagram but I saw all the photos from that competition and realized I don’t look the same, I don’t even know who that person is anymore.
“Definitely because of those skates (earlier in my career) is why I’m back here today. I completely revamped my whole career. I feel like I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in, and I’m really lucky to have this whole experience.”
After revamping his technique, fitness level and pretty much all aspects of his approach to the sport, Rippon won his first U.S. title in January, after competing at the senior level for eight years.
Rippon trails a field of previous world champions, including leader Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who won gold at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and 2014 world championships. Hanyu’s 110.56 earned in Boston is only 0.39 off his world-record score from the 2015 Grand Prix Final. Currently second is reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain with 98.52, followed by three-time world champion (2011-13) Patrick Chan of Canada, who scored 94.84.
One spot behind Rippon is fellow American Max Aaron, who landed in eighth with 81.28, his highest short program score earned at a world championships. Though Aaron had a few mistakes in his program and did not perform it as cleanly as hoped, he noted competing at worlds in the U.S. was unlike any other competition.
“It was fun; I really enjoyed it,” the 24-year-old Aaron said. “I never knew what it would feel like skating in our country, and it’s amazing. There’s nothing like this experience. It’s even better than the U.S. championships, which I love. I just enjoyed it. A couple bobbles here and there, and they add up. Obviously this sport shows it. But I enjoyed it.”
With such a stacked field ahead of them, Rippon and Aaron did not expect medal-winning performances at the world championships; instead, their primary goal was to earn the U.S. three men’s spots at next year’s worlds. To do so, their combined placements would have to equal 13 or less. Currently sitting in seventh and eighth, equaling 15, their goal is within reach, should they have clean performances in Friday night’s free skate.
“Adam’s going to skate clean and I’m going to do my best to hopefully skate clean as well and hopefully our best will get those three spots,” Aaron said. “I think we can do it, but it takes making sure we’re on point Friday and we’re constantly in the group together, making sure he’s OK and making sure I’m OK. It’s the constant back and forth, and making sure everything is good in practice, and we’re looking forward to the free program.”
Team USA’s third men’s skater, Grant Hochstein, finished the night ranked 16th, a solid showing for his worlds debut, despite falling on his opening quadruple jump. The 25-year-old, who is in his seventh year as a senior skater, was added to the worlds team after Nathan Chen was injured in January.
For Hochstein, his experience at worlds was more about the journey than the result.
“It’s something that I worked for my whole life and something that, for a long time, I didn’t think I was ever going to achieve,” Hochstein said. “It’s a dream come true and, fall or not, it’s OK. I’m here and I’m loving every second of it, and I will cherish every second of it for the rest of my life.”