NEW YORK — Adam Rippon had plenty of time to think about his future while confined to a walking boot for 12 weeks this winter.
Rippon, who couldn’t defend his U.S. title this year due to a broken foot, is only more motivated to make his first Olympic team next year. And motivated to compete beyond 2018.
“If I can come away stronger from this, I can skate longer than I felt that I would be able to [before breaking the foot],” Rippon said while at the Rink at Rockefeller Center on Monday, two weeks after shedding the boot. “Going forward past this Olympic season, I think as long as I feel like I’m still competitive, still strong, still improving, I think there’s no reason why I shouldn’t continue.
“Before I had this, I was like, I’m going to go to the Olympics and then go on vacation.”
Rippon, 27, is the elder statesman of U.S. figure skating. He competed in eight straight U.S. Championships before sitting out this past season. PyeongChang appears to be his last realistic shot at an Olympic team.
To make it, he’ll have to come back from his first major injury. Rippon said he had never before taken more than a week or two off, only withdrawn once from more than 40 senior competitions in the last decade.
Rippon was the two-time reigning world junior champion going into the 2010 U.S. Championships, where he finished fifth. The field was pretty deep then, with past U.S. champions Evan Lysacek, Johnny Weir and Jeremy Abbott, and Rippon was still blooming.
It looked like 2014 would be Rippon’s year. He was the top U.S. man in the fall 2013 Grand Prix season but dropped to a career-worst eighth at nationals.
He continued on and won his first U.S. title last season. This season, before the broken foot, he qualified for December’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. That event takes the top six skaters in the world from the Grand Prix season.
While Rippon was sidelined in January, February and March, spending four hours per day in the gym, he saw the U.S. men’s depth chart get crowded.
Training partner Nathan Chen established himself as an overwhelming favorite to lead the three-man Olympic team, winning the U.S. title in January and the Four Continents crown in February.
Jason Brown, a Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion, came back from injuries to post a score at worlds in March that bettered Rippon’s personal best.
And Vincent Zhou, who was 8 years old when Rippon debuted at senior nationals, won the world junior title with three quadruple jumps in his free skate.
Brown and Rippon both won their U.S. titles without landing a single quad. Rippon isn’t committing to a set number of quads next season, but said he plans to work on flip, Lutz and toe loop once he’s allowed full-go on the ice in June.
If Zhou’s progression continues, Brown and Rippon may be left to vie for the third and final Olympic team spot come January.
“So many of those faces change, but to stay relevant, you always have to focus on yourself and keep pushing yourself,” Rippon said. “Because those new faces come and they go. Or, sometimes, they stay. Or sometimes they’re your rival. Or sometimes they’re only here for one year.”
Rippon could look at his injury as a setback. Or, he could take the mindset of longtime friend and training partner Ashley Wagner, who just completed her least successful season since 2011.
“She has a four-year plan, kind of like I do,” Rippon said. “So when I broke my foot, I didn’t feel discouraged. When she had the skates that she did [seventh place at worlds after silver in 2016], she didn’t feel discouraged. She’s looking at the big picture. She has a great resumé, and I feel like I have a strong resumé, too, going into next season, and that’s what matters.”
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