Looking back, Adam Rippon said he was “a fetus” at his first World Figure Skating Championships in 2010, at age 20.
“Now, I feel like a grown fetus man,” he said Wednesday.
Rippon, the U.S. silver medalist, returns to Worlds for the third time in Shanghai next week, his first time at the global competition since 2012.
Rippon believes a top-six finish is reasonable, maybe top five. That’s if he can become the first man to land a clean quadruple Lutz at a Worlds and, of course, check off the rest of his elements in two programs.
“I want to show them that I’m not the fragile skater that people sometimes think that I am,” he said.
It wasn’t always that way. Rippon became the first singles skater to win two World Junior Championships, in 2008 and 2009. He beat fields that included Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu, Spaniard Javier Fernandez and Kazakh Denis Ten, the men who are favored to take medals in Shanghai next week.
Then in 2010, Rippon was called up for the senior World Championships team as second alternate after Olympians Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir passed. He placed sixth with little prep time.
After that, his mind started to wander. Rippon put pressure on himself to have immediate success as a senior skater.
“When that didn’t happen, I felt kind of like a failure,” said Rippon, who fell to fifth at the 2011 U.S. Championships, 13th at the 2012 Worlds and bottomed out at the 2014 U.S. Championships, finishing eighth, where the top two made the Sochi Olympics.
“It takes everybody a different amount of time to regain their confidence,” he said. “For me, it took 25 years.”
Two months ago, Rippon ranked fifth in the short program at the U.S. Championships. He felt like a pariah, unlikely to make the three-man Worlds team.
“A message like, good for you Adam, but it’s time for you to retire,” he said.
Rippon shattered his fragile reputation two days later by topping the free skate at Nationals, jumping to second place behind Jason Brown. He landed a downgraded quad Lutz and eight triple jumps, one year after he considered quitting after missing the Olympic team by a mile.
That bounce-back recalled the way he described his skating as a junior champion six and seven years ago.
“I went into these [junior] competitions with a little more reckless abandon than I did when I got a little bit older,” Rippon says now. “I had nothing to lose.”
Rippon would like to feel the same way in Shanghai. He calls the quad Lutz his “friend” but knows the mental part of skating has long been the opposite.
So to prepare for his third World Championships, Rippon will make sure to be in the building for good friend Ashley Wagner‘s short program next Thursday.
The nervousness watching Wagner, favored to win her first Worlds medal, perform a program he helped choreograph will conjure a positive in Rippon’s mind.
“I would much rather skate myself than watch Ashley right now,” he said.
Rippon admitted competing in the Four Continents Championships in February in Seoul, where he finished a disappointing 10th amid exhaustion, may have been a mistake.
He can’t worry about the past anymore.
“It’s really about making sure my head is all in the right place,” Rippon said.