Adam Rippon is living his best life. A few whirlwind months removed from winning an Olympic bronze medal and becoming a breakout star of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the figure skater brought the charming, entertaining and authentic persona the country had come to know to the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars: Athletes.” After four fierce weeks of competition, he and professional dance partner Jenna Johnson were crowned champions Monday night.
But learning to dance, getting used to working with a partner and memorizing choreography worthy of performing in front of a TV audience of millions weren’t the only thing that consumed the 28-year-old’s life this past month. He joined a dozen other Olympic skaters on the 22-stop Stars on Ice tour, which included as many as four shows a week in just as many cities. The tour wrapped Sunday in Portland, Oregon, the day before Rippon became the first male figure skater in the show’s 26-season history to win the mirror ball trophy.
Immediately after his win, Rippon was back on a plane, taking a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to New York for a three-day victory tour that includes stops all around the city for TV appearances and more. While commuting from one obligation to the next, Rippon spoke to TeamUSA.org about his future in both skating and dancing, how the latter improved the former, a potential pairs skating partnership with Mirai Nagasu, and much more.
What was your immediate reaction when you were announced as the winner?
I think throughout the entire competition, Jenna and I weren’t focusing on winning, we were just focusing on going out and having the best dances we could absolutely put out. Then all of a sudden when they’re like, ‘The winner of Dancing with the Stars is…’ and it was like, oh god, now I’m thinking about winning. But when they announced it and it was us, it was amazing. I think at the beginning of the competition you obviously want to be the winner, but when you get to the very end it means so much more than that. You live that experience with your pro and to live that experience with Jenna, who I got to know so well, it made it even more special.
What was your favorite dance you learned this season?
I think my favorite dance I got to learn was either our freestyle or our jazz piece – and the cha-cha, and I kind of liked the quickstep, too. So I like all of them and it’s like picking your favorite child, which is impossible.
You ended the competition with one of your lower scores as the judges had mixed reviews of your freestyle. What did you think of the reception that performance received?
The judges gave mixed reviews on our freestyle but we were trying to do something new and different that’s never been on the show before and I think that was what was important to both me and Jenna, that we went out there and did something new. I loved the freestyle that we did. I think it was really cool, it was funky. It was this Harajuku, street style, and I was the leader of our dancing gang. We just had a lot of fun with it. It was one of my favorite dances of our competition.
Between balancing Stars on Ice with “Dancing with the Stars” – and learning how to dance – what was the most challenging part of this past month for you?
I think the most challenging part has been trying to get in some rest. I’ve learned that if you have a lot going on, it’s important to focus on what’s really important. To me it was making sure I was out and performing really well every night on Stars on Ice and doing my best every time I got to take the stage at “Dancing with the Stars.” So I learned to conserve my energy and really just focus on when I needed to be fully on and go into the reserve tank and push and go for it. This experience has taught me a lot about myself and even in the craziness I can still push forward and get what I need to done and do it well.
How has learning to dance affected your skating?
What’s interesting is I felt like as the tour went on and as the show went on, I felt like my skating improved and I was more aware of what I was doing with my arms and the positions I was hitting. I felt like I became a better performer because of “Dancing with the Stars.” It’s been a really cool experience, and I think it’s really helped my skating and brought it to a new level.
You’ve now competed in a sport now with immediate verbal feedback on your performance, which is so different from skating. Which do you prefer?
I think it’s really nice to get the immediate verbal feedback because then you can go back and work on what their critiques are. With skating you get the scores and then sometimes you don’t know what do do with them, but I also think if you were to get judges’ critiques on every competition in skating it would drive you crazy.
Compared to the many skating coaches you’ve worked with, how do you rate Jenna as a coach?
I think Jenna is one of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered. I’ve worked with a lot of amazing skating coaches, but to see the way that Jenna broke it down for me and also really challenged me at the same time speaks volumes to the kind of teacher she is. And how patient she was with me also speaks to how incredible of a person she is too.
Are you going to have Jenna choreograph a skating program for you?
We’ve already talked about it and I think when the opportunity comes for me to get a program together, Jenna is going to be the first person I call because I’ve had such a great time doing things with her on the floor that we’ve got to take it to the ice.
What does your dancing future look like – could you see yourself pursuing a role on Broadway?
I don’t know. I think it’s something I never really thought about much but I enjoy performing and I feel like it’s something that I need to do in some capacity. I told Jenna I’ve had such a great time learning how to dance that I think, recreationally, I really want to take classes and keep going with it. It’s just been so much fun and it’s a great way to challenge yourself.
And how about your skating future – are you considering competing again?
It’s been such a whirlwind from the Olympics that I need to sit down, I need to talk to my coach and really go over what I think is going to be the best thing for me. Once all of this settles down and I have the chance to go home and sit down with Rafael (Arutunian), I think that’s when I’ll really think about what the best option is for me.
Where do you keep your Olympic medal and where will you keep your mirror ball trophy?
I think I’m going to keep my mirror ball trophy on this one coffee table where I keep my other little trophies. And my Olympic medal right now is in its case on a bookshelf, and where I keep my other medals is in a bag in a dresser drawer, but I think I need to change that soon. As a competitor I would take a medal and put it away so I could focus on whatever was next. I think now, after the Olympics and everything, I think it’s a chance for me to reflect on everything that went on and celebrate it. I can take a moment be proud of everything I’ve been able to do.
You and Mirai are both great skaters and dancers – and obviously get along well. How do you think you would do as a pairs team on the ice?
Oh my god, I think we would kill each other. But I think we would do it in a way that we love. So we would die doing what we love, laughing.
How will the exposure you’ve gained from this show change things for you going forward?
I think from the Olympics and “Dancing with the Stars,” I feel so lucky to share my story and and share a little bit of who I am with so many people, it’s just awesome. And I think with the platform it comes with I want to continue to use it for good and continue to be an activist for people who feel like they have a voice that isn’t being heard, and also as a chance for me to share more of who I am, entertain people and continue performing in some sort of capacity.