SAN JOSE, Calif. – Adam Rippon is ready to turn an unhappy anniversary into a date to celebrate.
“I’m waiting for my day of reckoning,” said Rippon, who is in second place following the short program at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The men’s free skate is Saturday, which is exactly one year since Rippon broke his left foot in training and was prevented from defending his title at last year’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
“This was the first step I needed to take to having that amazing comeback that I felt like I was going to have,” said Rippon, 28, the oldest man in the 21-skater field.
Going into the event, he was brimming with confidence, proclaiming that “my mentality is this is just going to be my coronation.”
A committee will select three men to represent Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Quad king Nathan Chen, who leads the short program with 104.45 points, is a virtual lock. Rippon is next with a personal best of 96.52 points, followed by 2014 Olympian Jason Brown at 93.23.
“I’m so proud of myself,” Rippon, skating in his ninth nationals as a senior skater said at the post-competition press conference with Chen and Brown. “I know how hard it is to skate at U.S. championships, so huge hats off to my two friends over here. We’re so nice, too.”
This is the third Olympic cycle for Rippon, who also has two runner-up finishes in addition to his title two years ago. He was fifth at nationals in 2010 after placing fourth in both the short program and free skate, and then eighth in 2014.
“I’ve had visions of what I’ve done dancing through my head like an effing nightmare,” he said. “I remember eight years ago I did a double lutz and fell on the footwork and then four years ago, I just let the pressure get to me and I was like a disaster.
“And so I said, You know what? I’m eight years wiser, I’m stronger, I’m cuter and I’m just ready. I’m poised and I’m ready to just reclaim my time.”
Skating to the exuberant beat of “Let Me Think About It” by Ida Corr vs. Fedde Le Grand, Rippon had the crowd clapping along. He nailed his triple flip/triple toeloop combination, a triple axel and then a triple lutz. Yet Rippon said his spins were the highlight. “I love spinning,” he said.
When he finished, Rippon put his face in his hands and then blew a kiss to the audience. When his score flashed on the screen, he gave “V for Victory” signs with both hands.
Rippon said his trials and tribulations have made him better.
“I wouldn’t take anything I’ve ever done back,” Rippon said. “I would never want to redo anything. Every disappointment I’ve ever had has made me so much stronger and so much better. I wouldn’t be the person I am now. I wouldn’t appreciate what I’m doing right now as much as I do if I didn’t have those ups and downs, of not making the team, of breaking my foot, of feeling like I’ve come up short and I am just a completely better person.”
He said he was grateful for an opportunity to compete again. After missing the 2014 team, Rippon wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue in the sport.
But every time he took time away from the ice, he found himself coming back to the rink “because it was like my home,” he said. “I felt like I had more to do, and I was doing myself an injustice if I didn’t at least just try. So many times it takes a lot of courage to just try, I’m just going to give myself the shot and not going to worry about anything else. That was four years ago, so here I am. I gave myself a chance and I’m taking it.”
Rippon also had to overcome his broken foot, and remembered how he finished a whole bottle of wine watching the men’s short program last year.
With one foot in a boot and the other on the floor, he read the criteria for making the U.S. Olympic team, which takes into account results from events over the past two seasons.
With two silver medals at Skate America and NHK Trophy, he certainly has the credentials to make the team.
If he does make it to PyeongChang, Rippon would be one of the first openly gay skaters at the Olympics, although that’s not what’s foremost in his own mind.
“To me, it would just be that my hard work paid off,” he said.
However, he recognizes that he has a voice as an elite athlete. When he was recently asked what it’s like being a gay athlete in sports, he replied, “It’s exactly like being a straight athlete, only with better eyebrows,” and he pointed to his own and added, “which, yes it is.”
Rippon, who was raised by a single mom in tiny Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, said that in this day and age, it’s important to be proud of who you are.
“I can’t believe I am where I am today,” he said, “because I was just a little gay kid from the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Where I grew up, people sometimes don’t leave that town, everybody has their reasons for staying. I just felt like there was something else out there for me and my mom felt that way, too, growing up, I really didn’t have a lot of role models and I said if I was ever given the chance and the platform, I would share my story.”
Rippon said that sharing his story has made him a better competitor and he’s proud that he’s “able to be unabashedly myself. I love myself and so when I’m able to go out there and just really be me, I’m able to put my hard work forward.
“And I want somebody who’s young, who’s struggling, who’s not sure if it’s OK if they are themselves, to know that it’s OK. So many people have the same worries, sometimes it’s not being gay, maybe you don’t like how tall you are or what ethnicity you are. It doesn’t matter where you came from. If you set your mind to something, you can truly do anything.”