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‘I felt like a champion’ Rippon shares pain, triumph of his Olympic dream

U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon off ered a

heartfelt account of his Olympic dream in a key- note speech at the Governing Council’s Athlete Advisory Committee dinner. Rippon, originally from Pennsylvania and a member of The Skating Club of New York, chronicled his skating career, which appeared full of promise after winning back-to-back World Junior titles (2008–09) and fi nishing as an alternate for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. He went on to claim gold at the Four Continents Championships and placed sixth at the World Championships, both also in 2010. “The next four years were mine. I was going

to ride this wave all the way to the podium in So- chi,” Rippon told the crowd of 200. In his fi rst event of the post-Olympic season,

Rippon defeated the likes of Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia and World champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan at the Japan Open. Unfortunately for Rippon, the ensuing years

didn’t go as planned, as the pressure he felt to meet everyone’s growing expectations con- sumed him. “When I’d make a mistake at a competition, I

would go home and wonder, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I felt I wasn’t the same skater that people were talking about,” he said. Although the next few years were up and

down, Rippon thought he had turned things around during the 2013 Grand Prix season — he landed a quad (Lutz) for the fi rst time in compe- tition and fi nished second at Skate America and fourth at NHK Trophy — leading up to the Olym- pic-qualifying U.S. Championships in Boston. But as the competition neared, his coach,

Rafael Arutunian, noticed he was tightening up. “This upcoming championships was going

to be a life-changing event for me,” Rippon said. “I had envisioned this competition for so many years. I was going to go there, skate two per- fect programs, win the title and head to my fi rst Olympic Games.” But that didn’t happen. In trying to deliver

“perfect programs” in Boston, he instead let in all the stress he had been carrying with him and fi n- ished a heartbreaking eighth. “The 2014 U.S. Championships ended up

being the worst competitive experience of my life,” Rippon said. “I was incredibly embarrassed of how I performed. I cried for three days straight nonstop. It was the most important competition of my life and now I’m watching my friends get- ting ready to go to the Olympics. I felt like a fail- ure. At this point I was done, I wanted nothing to do with skating.” But the more Rippon tried to push skating

away, the more it became his therapy and safe place. He became reenergized when his friends, Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner, asked him to choreograph their short programs for the 2014–

4 JUNE-JULY 2015

15 season. Slowly, he returned to the ice and be- gan training again for the next season. Rippon, however, endured a lackluster

Grand Prix campaign, looking like a skater who didn’t know if he wanted to compete or not. Then with just eight weeks left until the

2015 U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, Rippon sat down with Arutunian and his trainer and told them he was “done doubt- ing myself and done feeling embarrassed” and planned to train as hard as he possibly could and not have any regrets. In Greensboro, Rippon felt fi t and prepared.

He received an inspirational boost watching Wagner fi nish fi rst and Nagasu fourth with the short programs he choreographed. The next night, he produced a great short program him- self, which landed him in fi fth. Now only focused on the free skate, Rippon

delivered the performance he had worked so hard to make happen. “Once I hit the quad Lutz in my long pro-

gram, I took it all one step at a time,” Rippon said. “I then got my score, the highest score of a free skate ever recorded at a U.S. Championships. I won the free skate and fi nished second overall.” At that moment, Rippon said he realized

what it meant to be an Olympian. “Even though I was second, I felt like a win-

ner, I felt like a champion. It was in that moment that I realized that being an Olympian is more than going to the Olympics. That even if you had never competed in an Olympic Games, you can still compete with Olympic integrity. Long after you leave the arena, you will be remembered for the way you competed and treated others. I can honestly say, from all of these experiences, I wouldn’t be who I am today without skating. “Skating has allowed me to meet so many

incredible people, taught me to never give up and that there’s no embarrassment in making mistakes, and it’s how you react and deal with disappointment that makes us champions. Al- ways be proud of yourself and know that it takes a lot of courage to chase a dream.”




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