Nathan Chen is the current aspect of men’s skating these days that speaks to flying high and rotating like a tornado at every opportunity. Adam Rippon is another aspect, quite pleasing, actually, but more short of those point-grabbing quads.
Chen, only 17, with ballet in his background somewhere, attempted five quads at the Finlandia Trophy last weekend – and defeated three-time world champion Patrick Chan, who lists two. Mind you, Chen really landed only one cleanly, the rest resulting in falls or turns. But whether he succeeded or not, Chen gave a hint at where men’s skating is going these days. Last season, Boyang Jin of China attempted four in his free skates and that was enough to land this teenager a world bronze medal. Chen just one-upped him a week ago, now the first man to list five.
Rippon, the reigning U.S. champion, feels he can be competitive with a couple of quads. He’s just not quite ready to unleash all of them yet, on the dawn of the first Grand Prix of the season, Skate America in Chicago.
After a magical performance at the world championships in Boston last March – in which Rippon finished fourth in the free skate with an underrotated quad Lutz and a confident, relaxed, unrushed demeanor, Rippon figured out an ambitious plan for this season. The plan was not to sit on his laurels, but to grow and improve: add more difficulty to the second half of his free skate, hopefully include two quads in the free skate, and push the envelope with his musical choices and routines.
Rippon spent the summer trying to clean up the landing of his quad Lutz, and to introduce the quad toe or the quad Salchow to his repertoire. He’s been pushing either two quad Lutzes, or one quad Lutz and one quad toe, but the quad toe is his main focus. It’s the quad, he says he really wants to try at Skate America. He is reluctant to do a quad in competition if it isn’t consistent in practice. He needs to feel it’s 100 per cent ready. After Skate America, he may look at adding a quad Lutz back in.
Difficulty in the second half? Two triple Axels and a couple of combination jumps. He’s aware of the flying quads this season: Shoma Uno of Japan, who is in the Skate America field, is attempting quad flips now, too. And Jin is competing in Chicago, too. “If you look around and you see what the others are doing, you like, poop your pants,” Rippon said.
But he’s going to be 27 in a few weeks, he’s been relatively injury free and he doesn’t think it realistic for someone like him to jump up and do four quads in the next competition, “That’s just not where I am,” Rippon said. “If you can’t do four quads, then you need to do the rest of the elements as well as you can. You need to do the spins as well as you can.”
He knows what he’s up against, but how does he get his mind around it and compete against the onslaught of quads? He knows what everyone else is doing, and yet, he’s not looking around too much. He can only focus on himself. “And at the end of the day, if I do everything that I’ve planned to do as well as I can, I’m not going to come away from an event disappointed,” he said.
His musical choices are most fascinating. For years a classical music skater, Rippon skipped ahead a few centuries and skated to Queen and the Beatles last season, using music that is both highly recognizable and crowd friendly. His choices this year are different.
Rippon told coach Rafael Arutunian what sort of music he wanted to use. Arutunian shrugged and said: “Okay, let’s just see how it works out.”
The short program seems to have worked out fine. Rippon has picked out an electro-pop number: “Let Me Think About It,” by Ida Corr vs Fedde Le Brand. Think purple fringe, pulsing beats, sensual dance moves, night clubs.
“I’ve always done something a little faster, more dramatic [for the short program], and I just went right up to club music with my short program this year,” Rippon said. “Every time I do it at home, I want to dance to it. I’m so grateful that I have set choreography to it. Otherwise, I might do some embarrassing dance steps to it, but it’s great music. It’s amazing. I love to look over when I’m in the middle of a program and Rafael is dancing and not paying attention to what I’m doing.”
The free program has been another story. Rippon had been skating to an introspective, quiet piece called “Bloodstream” by Stateless. (Vocals: “I think I might have inhaled you/I can feel you behind my eyes/ You’ve gotten into my bloodstream/I can feel you floating in me.”) Rippon loved the routine. But he began to get feedback suggesting the music wasn’t building or carrying him enough. After a decent performance on his first outing at Japan Open – he was fifth of six men – Rippon felt the music wasn’t giving him what he needed.
Before he had even left Japan, Rippon called friend Benji Schwimmer, who won the second season of the Fox television series: “So You Think You Can Dance,” and asked him to help. Rippon landed in California, dropped his luggage at home, ignored all the jet lag, and immediately headed for Schwimmer’s studio to choreograph a new free. Rippon took note of Schwimmer’s movements on the floor, then he tried to translate it onto the ice. It took him three or four run-throughs to “solidify” his steps. The order of the elements was the same as the previous free skate. The transitions were different. Rippon has done many run-throughs since.
“I think Benji and I are kindred spirits,” Rippon said. “We get along incredibly well. We kind of have the same mentality when it comes to different pieces and different emotions that we feel when we hear different pieces of music.”
The new free skate had been primarily a piece called simply “O” by Coldplay – a piece Rippon wanted to save for Olympic season. “I really fell in love with it,” he said. “And I thought, you know what? You never know what is going to happen, and if you have a good idea, you have to use it. Because if you use your good idea, it might make room in your brain for an even better idea.”
Fascinating thought. It’s why I like listening to Rippon.
The free is made up of two pieces of music, including “Arrival of the Birds” by Exodus and the Coldplay piece. Rippon had been doing it as an exhibition all summer, on the Stars On Ice tour, on a Japan tour. He even skated to it at exhibitions after the world championship in Boston.
“I just had more time with the Bird,” Rippon said. “The music carries and builds a little more.”
Rippon has played around with The Bird so much, it’s inside him. Watch below, a video he did in which he explores the movement of a bird with a broken wing, trying to return to the flock. It has been distilled for his exhibition and at Skate America, we will see further what he has done to it.
The men’s short program begins on Saturday (Oct.22), the free on Sunday (Oct. 23). Rippon is in tough competition, indeed, but he’ll find out where the Bird and the O will take him. His list of goodies stood up well in Boston. He’s facing the same quandaries as Patrick Chan, who competes the following week at Skate Canada.