Clarks Summit native Adam Rippon is a United States champion.
While many figure skaters reach their peak earlier in their careers, 26-year-old Rippon believes he’s getting better every year.
He outlasted Max Aaron, 23, and Nathan Chen, 16, to win the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship Sunday in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a total of 270.75 points. He previously finished second at the event in 2012 and 2014.
“It’s a huge thing for me,” Rippon said. “It’s a dream I’ve had since I started skating at the age of 10 to be a national champion. It took a combination of a lot of hard work and persevering through a lot of ups and downs.”
Rippon hopes to carry the momentum into the 2016 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, March 28-April 3, in Boston.
“I don’t believe anyone skates the same career and I feel I’m really hitting my stride,” he said. “I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and by the time I get to the World Championships, I will be in even better shape.”
Although Rippon fell on a quad lutz attempt in the U.S. Championship, he remained composed throughout the rest of the skate and credits his experience and training for allowing him to remained poised on the ice.
“It’s the hardest jump attempted during men’s competitions,” Rippon said of the quad lutz. “I wanted to show I was giving it my all and not holding back. I practice every day to recover (from mistakes) and still deliver a really strong performance. Once it happened, I knew I could recover.”
After the fall, Rippon showcased his technical skills and used his years of performing to bring home the title.
“Performing is my real passion,” he said. “In my job, you need to be able to make difficult moves look very easy. I feel really lucky to have worked with great skating choreographers and I can move with move power and spin faster than some of the less experienced skaters.
“The fans remember if they are moved by a performance…if it makes them feel happy.”
Rippon became the first male skater to win back-t0-back world junior championships, taking home gold in 2008 and 2009, and seemed poised for more success.
He was named an alternate to the United States team before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia and put pressure on himself to qualify the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
“I felt I was in really good position to make the team in 2014 and I didn’t make it,” he said. “I really contemplated retirement, but I continued to skate. I sat down with my coaching team and discussed what it would take to bring my skating to another level. I still felt young and thought I had a lot to give. I decided to give 110 percent and it completely turned my career around.
“I’m so grateful they believed in me and pushed me to be the best I’ve ever felt.”
On the heels of winning the U.S. Championship, Rippon has his sights set on qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I feel I’m ready and up for the challenge,” Rippon said. “I’m a lot more experienced than the last times I tried to qualify. This is my time.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.