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Is Rippon ready for senior moment?

World junior champ works to add triple Axel to repertoire

Adam Rippon dominated in 2007-08, including wins at the U.S. and world juniors, and he's honored to move up a level this year.
Adam Rippon dominated in 2007-08, including wins at the U.S. and world juniors, and he's honored to move up a level this year. (Michelle Harvarth)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/28/2008) - For Adam Rippon, the biggest advantage of training at Hackensack, N.J.'s Ice House is intense competition.

Sharing the ice with 2005 world junior champion Nobunari Oda, 2007 world champion Miki Ando, three-time world medalist Fumie Suguri and others keeps the 18-year-old Scranton, Pa., native on his toes.

"Living in that atmosphere makes going to competitions less scary," Rippon said. "Because you train with high-level skaters, nobody is going to scare you; nobody is going to put you in awe. You are almost never going to be thrown off your path of being focused."

Rippon paused a moment, then smiled and added, "When I see Nobu do something like a triple-triple-triple, I say 'OK, I have to do it, but I have to do it better.'"

The curly-haired skater was one of last season's biggest surprises. Prior to teaming with Nikolai Morozov in February 2007, Rippon was a mid-level junior. He did not earn an ISU Junior Grand Prix assignment in 2006, and his highest finish at the U.S. championships in the junior ranks was sixth.

But last fall, Morozov's superior choreography, coupled with Rippon's greater confidence, helped him win his first Junior Grand Prix event (JGP Romania) and place second in another (JGP Bulgaria). He won the Junior Grand Prix Final and then took home the U.S. and world junior titles.

Not that it was easy.

"At junior worlds, I was guilty of putting all the pressure on myself, and I was so nervous," Rippon admitted.

"In the beginning of the season, I put no pressure on myself, and I skated my best every time I went out there. But at junior worlds, I told myself, 'I don't want to lose.' After all I did -- I had won my nationals, I had won the Junior Grand Prix Final -- I thought, 'I've worked too hard; I can't make a mistake.' When the long program was over, I said, 'I could have done that a thousand times better.'"

Rippon, who is known for intense, musical performances with intricate footwork, has yet to show a triple Axel, a jump considered de rigueur among top senior men.

"It's getting much, much better," he said. "We're planning on having one in the short as the solo Axel and one in the long this season. I want to get more confident with it, and hopefully, by the end of the season, I can have two [in the long], one in the first half and one in combination in the second half.

"Right now, in practice, probably on a great day, it's 90 percent. On an average day, it's about 70 percent. So it's still a new jump for me. I am feeling more confident with it, and I have a good feeling that by the time I'm competing internationally, I won't be worried about it, and it will be a normal jump for me."

Morozov sounded equally confident. Asked if Rippon will show the jump at Skate America this October, the über-coach responded, "Of course. He can show it right now. The goal is we work on triple Axel, not get triple Axel. The goal is to get it in a way that it is consistent every time, because sometimes skaters have a jump, but it is not very consistent. And the key for the men skating right now, in my opinion, is to have a great triple Axel, and you will be in the top."

The next step in the jumping arsenal can wait.

"We don't really work on a quad right now," Morozov said. "It is not necessary for Adam to have it. I think already having him do Axel will make him dangerous to other skaters, because he is an amazing skater, because of [the] whole package -- movement, emotions."

Rippon is also adding more variations to his already impressive spins.

"I'm working on new positions that are not seen very often, especially in the men's event," he promised. "I'll have them perfected by the time Skate America comes around. I've also really been working on my skating skills and making the footwork even better. Hopefully, it will all pay off when the competition season starts."

Rippon, who is also scheduled for the Cup of Russia this fall, elected not to compete at any of the better-known summer competitions and is scheduled to debut his new programs at the Moran Memorial Championships in Hackensack in late August. He received an in-depth evaluation in private at the Ice Works facility in Aston, Pa., during the recent Liberty Open.

"We worked it out with [U.S. Figure Skating], and there will be a monitor coming down to the Moran Memorial," he explained. "My programs are almost ready, but I'm still working them out. We have music, but Nikolai is still picking out the [sections] he wants for transitions and steps. But basically, we have a really good idea what I'll be skating next year.

"The short program will more than likely be 'Summer' from [Vivaldi's] 'Four Seasons.' It will probably be reminiscent of my short program last year, but a techno version. My long program will probably be a combination of 'Send in the Clowns' and 'I Pagliacci.' We're just getting rid of all of the rough edges."

Rippon said that, since this will be his first season as a senior, he's back to being a bit of an underdog.

"I really don't feel as much pressure as I do privilege," he reasoned. "I get to skate at the senior level, and I feel I earned the right to skate in these competitions. People will be talking about me: 'Let's watch Adam; let's see what he can do.' I will definitely not be putting a lot of pressure on myself. The only pressure I will put on myself is to skate my best, and hopefully the results will follow."

No interview of a Scranton native would be complete without mention of The Office, the hit NBC comedy satirizing the everyday lives of employees in the Scranton branch of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

"I'm going to speak for myself, but I hope I'm speaking for all of Scranton -- we love The Office," Rippon, the eldest of six siblings, said. "I've been getting a lot of e-mails asking me about it. So my mom embarrassed me a little bit; she said, 'Go stand in front of these [landmarks], and we'll take pictures,' because I wanted to tell everybody I'm from the real Scranton. So now they're all up on my Web site."