Rippon’s Journey To Pyeongchang Olympics Was About More Than A Medal
Britney Spears tweeted good luck wishes Adam Rippon’s way Friday afternoon. She told him he was “the most fun” part of the Olympics.
Earlier this week, Reese Witherspoon asked him to keep making everybody happy. And Zach Braff said he wanted to tattoo the words of one of Rippon’s inspiring, fun-loving tweets on his chest. And Chelsea Clinton thanked him for his “grace, graciousness and glamour.” And Elmo, best of all, called Rippon a friend, told him he was proud of him.
Someday, it’s only fair and natural to realize, the national spotlight is going to fade from Rippon, as it will from pretty much every athlete competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang this week and next. That’s the nature of their work, really. They don’t play baseball or football. They don’t dunk a basketball or drive a golf ball. They’re Olympians, and Olympians show up every four years, grab you by the throat for a fortnight, then go back to traveling the world, to perform in front of adoring crowds, but largely off of American television.
They always leave you wanting more.
Right now, Rippon is one of the hottest celebrities in the world.
But even Mike Pence and whichever one of the Trump kids criticized him will move on, and so will he. And once he does, it’s only fair and natural to wonder what this will all have meant to him. What all this attention brought for him. More than just memories, you assume. But somewhat far less than what really matters in the end.
He’ll come back to the United States with a bronze medal from the team event, but these Olympics never seemed to be about medals for the 28-year-old from Clarks Summit.
He’ll come back with thousands more Twitter followers, but this never seemed to be about networking. He’ll be the proud owner of a personality that will take him wherever he wants to go now in the skating world, but this didn’t seem to be about the future, either.
That much seemed evident as Rippon glided across the ice and television screens late Friday night for the final time in competition at these Games, the Games of his life. His performances transcended scores all week. And his scores transcended the game. He was a throwback to a different era of skating without much of a shot to medal, the critics said. But there he was at the beginning of the free skate at the Gangneung Ice Arena, surrounded by the specter of quadruple jumps and young, dynamic athletes, but with a chance. Nobody else without multiple quadruple jumps in his program was even close.
In the end, Rippon wasn’t particularly close, and that didn’t particularly matter.
Because for as much of it as he received, this never seemed to be about the attention or the glitz or the shine that this competition brought to Rippon.
It was about an athlete who worked his whole life for a chance, got the chance, and did his best with it. Stayed true to himself with it. Did what he did best. Just him and the ice. Just him and the crowd. Just him, comfortable with himself and his place and his purpose.
And on the outside looking in, it makes one wish that every athlete could find that place in their own careers and lives at some point, someday, if only for moments like the ones Rippon found once he found himself.
Rippon could have attempted a quadruple jump last Sunday in the team skate, or Thursday night in the men’s short program, and certainly Friday night. He has landed a quadruple lutz in major competitions before, for sure. But that’s not his game, and he knows it, and he didn’t travel half a world away from Clarks Summit this month and just about everywhere else in between over the past 18 years of his skating life to skate another man’s game. He was quite comfortable skating his and leaving the performances speak for themselves.
He dazzled in the free skate at the team competition, bringing novice skating fans to their knees wondering how what he did wasn’t considered the best performance of the event. He brought the crowd to its feet Thursday in the short program. And Friday night, he brought himself to tears.
He knew he wasn’t going to medal. He was fourth after his skate, after all, with six of the top skaters in the world lined up to compete after him. He flawlessly landed eight triple jumps, including a pair of near-perfect triple toe-triple loop combinations, and he captured imaginations with his spins. But in today’s skating world, that’s a recipe for a middle of the ice technical score. And that seemed fine for Rippon. Because this was about competing, but it wasn’t about winning.
It was about proving something to himself, about giving himself the knowledge that on Olympic ice and national television and in front of everyone in the world who tuned in, his view of what figure skating still could be beautiful, still could be impressive, still could be something that grips you. Still could be something, maybe, that grips him, too.
The biggest compliment that can be paid a competitor like Adam Rippon in a sport like figure skating is that nobody will remember where he finished, as impressive as he finished. But he’ll long be remembered for how he made people feel.
From Britney to Reese to Chelsea to Elmo, from Pyeonchang to Scranton, Pittston and Clarks Summit and all points in between. And most importantly, to that one man on the ice, his hands on his head, in total disbelief and total belief, all at once Friday night. He gave the fans something of himself all week and left them with something beautiful to see. And left himself with something beautiful to feel, too.
DONNIE COLLINS is a Times-Shamrock sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.