How figure skating star Adam Rippon became 'America's Sweetheart'

The figure skating team bronze medallist made headlines on and off the ice at PyeongChang 2018, and the next 12 months have seen him become one of the United States' most in-demand celebrities.

Adam Rippon is a Dancing With The Stars winner and host, announces the new contestants for Ru Paul's Drag Race, makes guest appearances on Will and Grace, and gets nearly a million views online when he skates to Lady Gaga.

Oh, and he made the Time 100: The Most influential People of 2018 list where pop icon Cher wrote this about him:

"All figure skaters are beautiful, but Adam Rippon is different. He isn’t just a beautiful skater. He has humility, grace and an incredible sense of humor." - Cher

Not bad.

But things weren't always this rosy.

Take when he was eating burgers and crying on the roof of Mirai Nagasu's house in California in 2014, after the crushing disappointment of failing to make the cut for the Sochi Olympics.

Against the odds, Rippon made it to PyeongChang 2018 which provided a stage big enough to showcase his talents to the world.

'Hot mess' Rippon reflects on surreal Olympics

'Hot mess' Rippon reflects on surreal Olympics

Rising to the challenge at the Olympics

Rippon's success at PyeongChang was very much against the odds.

At 28, he was the most senior American singles figure skater debutant since 1936.

“I’m one of the oldest figure skaters competing now in the world on the Olympic level. I think in the past that would’ve discouraged me, but it kind of really motivates me because it’s different and I love to be different,” Rippon told People.

And as a vocal representative for the LGBT+ community, he soon set about making a name for himself off the ice as well.

He kept winning just by being himself.

The endorsements flooded in: if Reese Witherspoon is with you, then who can be against you?

Taking on the US vice president

Rippon gained more attention at home when he had a public online row with US vice president Mike Pence at the start of the Games.

The Olympian later told Advocate in an interview that he may find a future in politics:

"I think that my spat with Mike Pence, if anything, shows that I want to be involved in politics, I've always been passionate about it, I think it's really fascinating."

And the world was fascinated with Rippon in February 2018.

"It's really fun to be yourself, it's really fun to be me." - Adam Rippon

Relive Rippon talking about being 'America's sweetheart'

Relive Rippon talking about being 'America's sweetheart'

Rippon skates, world swoons

As a trailblazer for gay rights with a sparkling sense of humour, Rippon became 'America's Sweetheart', and a prime-time personality.

And he can really skate, take this spellbinding performance for example:

The end of the beginning

PyeongChang turned out to be Rippon's last appearance in competition, bringing his career to a fitting end.

He started skating when he was nine, winning back-to-back World Junior titles in 2008 and 2009, and the Four Continents Championship in 2010.

But Rippon always dreamed of making the Olympics.

Disappointment in 2014 was replaced by determination to make it in 2018 and he won the American nationals in 2016.

Adam Rippon on his way to winning the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championship in St Paul, Minnesota
Adam Rippon on his way to winning the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championship in St Paul, MinnesotaAdam Rippon on his way to winning the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championship in St Paul, Minnesota

Then at the start of 2017, he broke his foot while warming up before training.

Rippon later said he thought he had a stress fracture at the time due to under-eating to keep weight off, thus focusing attention on body image issues among male skaters.

He picked himself up again and managed fourth at the 2018 nationals, good enough to earn him a seat on the plane to South Korea.

But he didn't just achieve his dream of competing in the Olympics.

He went home with a medal, bronze in the team event, and became a household name.

A month later, Rippon was awarded the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award, receiving the trophy from PyeongChang team-mate Gus Kenworthy.

And he gave us a glimpse of the future with a powerful and moving speech.

Adam Rippon's speech brings the house down

Adam Rippon's speech brings the house down

Rippon finally announced his retirement from competitive skating in November 2018.

But it is merely a new beginning for the 29-year-old from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

And while politics and entertainment are very much on the horizon, he somehow found time in his busy schedule to fit in some choreography for former training partner Mariah Bell.

Coach Rafael Arutyunyan had no hesitation in recommending Rippon when Bell, according to US Figure Skating Fanzone, accidentally asked about his availability.

They started working together in April and Bell enjoyed the best performance of her career in November when she took fifth at the NHK Trophy behind eventual Grand Prix Final winner Rika Kihira.

Most recently, Bell was third in January's U.S. Figure Skating Championship behind 13-year-old sensation Alysa Liu.

U.S. Figure Skating Championships (L-R): runner-up Bradie Tennell, winner Alysa Liu, third-placed Mariah Bell and fourth-placed Hanna Harrell
U.S. Figure Skating Championships (L-R): runner-up Bradie Tennell, winner Alysa Liu, third-placed Mariah Bell and fourth-placed Hanna HarrellU.S. Figure Skating Championships (L-R): runner-up Bradie Tennell, winner Alysa Liu, third-placed Mariah Bell and fourth-placed Hanna Harrell

January was another busy month for Rippon.

He went to support the Women's March in Los Angeles before heading to New York for public speaking and media engagements.

And hours before heading back to Los Angeles to host the North American Hairstyling Awards, he managed to squeeze in witnessing New York governor Andrew Cuomo signing gay rights legislation.

He told Pride.com, "It was so amazing to be there. I heard about the bill being signed and it worked out perfectly.

"I was actually on my way out of New York, but I had a few hours, so I decided to pop in. I just wanted to be there to show my support."

February shows little sign of being any quieter with Rippon MCing the gala at this year's Four Continents Championships, the title he won nine years ago.

So what's next for the skater turned media personality?

Anything and everything, most probably.

And whatever path Rippon chooses to pursue, we will be sure to hear plenty from him for years to come.

Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon attend the 90th Academy Awards, familiarly known as the Oscars
Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon attend the 90th Academy Awards, familiarly known as the OscarsMirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon attend the 90th Academy Awards, familiarly known as the Oscars

The last word goes to Cher:

"You could see in the leather-harness suit he wore to the Academy Awards that he isn’t afraid to take chances. It wasn’t about the suit, really. It was about the fact that he dares to be different in a world where being different always comes with a cost. I thought it was fabulous, of course.

"Adam is a skater who happens to be gay, and that represents something wonderful to young people.

"Adam shows people that if you put blood, sweat and tears into what you’re doing, you can achieve something that’s special. You can be special. And I think that’s very brave."

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