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Behind Adam Rippon's charm is a man on a skating mission

From ESPN - February 15, 2018

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- On the afternoon before the biggest competition of his life, Adam Rippon seemed relaxed. "Every day's the biggest day of my life," he joked ahead of the men's short program on Friday. "Tomorrow I am just skating at the Olympics."

Rippon has become one of the biggest stars of the Pyeongchang Games, charming the world with his authenticity, openness about his sexuality and quips about his perfect eyebrows. (Being the first openly gay U.S. Olympian and clashing with Vice President Mike Pence has not dimmed the spotlight, either.) To talk to him is to be wowed by his confidence, candor and sense of humor. At practice on Thursday, he was loose, at one point mouthing the words to the warmup music while shimmying his shoulders.

Making his Olympic debut at 28, he's over a decade older than his teammates, Nathan Chen, 18, and Vincent Zhou, 17, a fact of which he's well aware. He claims to be America's "oldest first-time figure skating Olympian since 1936." (He is, by the way. We checked.) But for all of his magnetic off-ice traits, it was not Rippon's charm that got him to the Olympics. He clawed his way here with a fierce competitive drive and a single-minded pursuit of his goal.

Staying at the top in figure skating is particularly challenging mentally with age, according to Paul Wylie, who won his Olympic silver medal in 1992 when he was 27. "They had a survey that said how often do you think about quitting? Yearly, monthly? And I was like, daily!" he said. "Every day I struggled. Because you are in a rink skating with eight, nine, ten year olds, and you are a grown person. You really have to be rooted in your purpose, and that's one thing I really noticed about Adam: He feels like he is on a mission."

That mission is grounded in the pain of 2014, when Rippon finished eighth at the national championships and missed the Olympic team. Devastated, he considered leaving figure skating, but could not quite carry through with it.

"I remember a practice with Rafael [Arutunian], and I was like, Raf, I do not like to compete," Rippon recalled at nationals in January. "And he was like, 'You need to figure out if you want to do this or not.' At first, I was like, 'I do not want to do this anymore.' But every time I found myself trying to take time off of the ice, I just found myself coming back to the rink, because it was my home."

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