Adam Rippon was given a T-shirt two years ago emblazoned with what became his motto.
“I’m like a witch,” was Rippon’s famous quote after winning a breakthrough U.S. title in 2016, “and you can’t kill me.”
It’s been 10 years since Rippon won the first of back-to-back world junior titles. His time as a senior skater has been far less successful, but he took every failure and setback and kept on going.
The latest came Saturday night for the 28-year-old, the oldest man in the U.S. Championships field.
Rippon fell on a quadruple Lutz and singled the last two jumps of his free skate in San Jose, dropping from second after the short program to fourth place overall.
A committee picks the three-man Olympic team based on results from not only nationals but also the last year of competitions.
Those errors put Rippon’s spot in jeopardy, but he still had an argument as the second-best U.S. man behind Nathan Chen this fall.
The committee deliberated Saturday night.
They put Rippon on the team Sunday morning with Chen and U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. They left off Ross Miner, the man who came closest to Chen at nationals (albeit still more than 40 points behind).
Miner was a surprise podium finisher Saturday night and had no other strong results from the last two years. Zhou at least had the 2017 U.S. silver medal and world junior title to his name.
“Ross does amazing at U.S. Championships, but frankly he has struggled at some of the international competitions,” U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier said. “We weren’t sure when we put him out at the Olympics that he would perform to the extent that there was a possibility for a medal.”
The first thing Rippon did upon finding out he was named to the team was text Miner. (One of Miner’s coaches, Mark Mitchell, was third at 1992 Nationals and left off that Olympic team for Todd Eldredge‘s injury waiver.)
Rippon said he was proud of the way Miner skated Saturday, and understands the ups and downs of a skating career — perhaps better than anyone.
“I knew that there was a criteria set to be selected for the Olympic team, and I feel like I have better criteria than second and third place here,” Rippon said Saturday night. “But that being said, Vincent and Ross skated well tonight, and no matter what the selection is I will be 100 percent OK and can handle that. My Grand Prixs are better than everybody’s except for Nathan’s.”
The week before nationals, Rippon was not confident. He was cocky.
“My mentality going into San Jose is that this is just going to be my coronation,” he said. “The only argument [against me] is if other competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee.”
Rippon missed the Olympic team in 2010, crashing into the boards at nationals and placing fifth. Fine, he was only 20 years old.
He missed the Olympic team in 2014, despite being the most consistent U.S. man that fall season. He was eighth at nationals.
Rippon considered quitting but returned to training that summer.
“My biggest fear was that I would get fat,” he said.
Working under gruff Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Southern California, Rippon went from pariah to performer over the next two seasons.
He defied what he felt were urges from those in skating for him to retire.
He earned U.S. silver in 2015 and gold in 2016, though still struggling to master a quadruple jump. (He hasn’t landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition in more than one year.)
In October 2015, he came out in a U.S. Figure Skating magazine article.
“I want to be a relatable example,” Rippon, the oldest of six children, said in the article. “And I want to say something to the dad out there who might be concerned that his son is a figure skater. I mean look at me; I’m just a normal son from small-town Pennsylvania. Nothing changed.”
Saturday marked exactly one year since Rippon broke his foot in practice, an injury that forced him to miss last season’s nationals and worlds, two events that matter in U.S. Figure Skating’s selection criteria.
“I won’t take this lying down, which is, ironically, exactly what I’m doing right now,” Rippon said last January as he spent 12 weeks off the ice.
Rippon brought his hospital bracelet with him to San Jose this past week and reflected on it before Saturday’s program.
“I thought how far I had come in that whole year, and I thought, oh my God, this is my day of redemption,” he said. “Now I know every January 6, I will take a sabbatical. I will be on the Maldives on a yoga retreat.”
He came back this season to earn silver medals in both of his Grand Prix starts this fall.
Including at Skate America, where he dislocated his shoulder during his free skate, popped it back in and outscored Chen for the program (video).
“I love drama, so I said, you know what, I can make it through this,” Rippon said that night in Lake Placid, N.Y. “I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough, and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games.”
He joined Chen as the only U.S. men to qualify outright for December’s Grand Prix Final. That event takes the top six men in the world from the fall Grand Prix season. He was fifth there, but took confidence going into nationals.
“I take whatever situation I’m in, and I spin it like it’s the most positive thing that’s ever happened to me,” Rippon said Saturday night.
The committee helped with that on Sunday. Rippon is going to PyeongChang.
“I know sometimes everybody thinks I have a big mouth,” he said Sunday morning. “Sometimes I, like, put my foot in my mouth, but I wear my heart on my sleeve. I say those things because sometimes my sense of humor gets me through hard situations.
“I’m so grateful that, no matter what, I continue to skate because I’m such a stronger person, and I’m a lot braver than I thought I ever could be.”
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