Adam Rippon is going to win season 27 of ABC’s reality show, “Dancing with the Stars.” And until he does, I’m going to blog about it every week.
ABC landed an all-athlete field for the latest iteration of the show, which began in 2005. And through the series’s history, athletes have done very well, winning the crystal ball trophy nine times. For this season, producers drafted a diverse group of active and retired athletes, Olympians and ballplayers, heroes and villains.
Rippon, the figure skating darling from the PyeongChang Olympics, is the clear headliner, along with Tonya Harding, an obvious foil. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 70, will have to keep up with Arike Ogunbowale, 21, the hero of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
There’s also Chris Mazdzer and Jamie Anderson, two more PyeongChang medalists, Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and a bunch of less important people.
The show pairs up celebrities (to be fair, occasionally D-list celebrities) with professional ballroom dancers, who teach their partners a new discipline each week. Judges who know something about ballroom dancing score the teams, and then viewers vote via phone or social media to decide who survives.
A little about me: I’m 23. I don’t know how to ballroom dance, though I’ve always wanted to learn. I haven’t watched DWTS in years. D.C.-area sports teams have ripped out my heart and stomped on it more times than I’ve told a therapist. I asked to do this weekly blog thing on a whim, and my editor said, okay. (Thank you, Dan!)
So, here are the first power rankings of the field of 10 celebrity athletes. “Dancing with the Stars” begins April 30 at 8 p.m.
10. Chris Mazdzer, Olympic luger
I’m not trying to slight Mazdzer by saying this, but I do need to remind you he’s a luger. There’s a tremendous amount of athleticism that goes into lugeing (as colleague Sarah Larimer explored), but not a whole lot of it is footwork. In a field this loaded with talent, it could be tough for Mazdzer to catch on right away. But he is handsome, so you never know.
9. Jamie Anderson, Olympic snowboarder
Anderson is at No. 9 for the same reason Mazdzer is at No. 10. She’s an incredible athlete — gold in snowboard slopestyle in Sochi and PyeongChang — but her sport requires your feet to be strapped to a piece of wood. How’s that going to work out when she has to cha-cha?
8. Johnny Damon, retired Major League Baseball player
This is Damon’s sixth year out of professional baseball, and age is meaningful in DWTS. He’s too young, 44, to be the graceful elder statesman but too old to be an athlete in his prime. Plus, Damon has always been surrounded by a certain “pretty boy” aura. TV viewers will be eager to knock that down.
7. Josh Norman, Washington Redskins cornerback
I don’t know about Josh Norman. He should still technically be in his prime, but he finds ways to disappoint. So conceivably, if lockdown Josh shows up, he could be a top-three finisher. Or, he could slip to No. 8 or No. 9, if he’s just not into it. With the skill involved in playing cornerback, and taking into consideration how well football players have performed historically on DWTS, Norman should be in the top five. But he’s not, because of the D.C. Sports Troll.
(Really, I’m trying not to get emotionally invested. The Redskins disappoint me every year. I tried to resist last season but got sucked in when they beat the Rams. In return, I will be completely apathetic about Norman’s DWTS appearance.)
(Bonus intrigue: How frequently will NBC use the word “Redskin(s)?”)
6. Jennie Finch Daigle, retired Olympic softball player
Like Norman, Daigle (it feels weird calling her Daigle; she’s still Jennie Finch, the Cy Young of softball, to me) is another wild card. She’s been retired for eight years, but that’s more because professional fast-pitch softball is barely surviving than because of her age, 37. Something tells me she has the potential to stick around this show. She has experience with complex footwork as a pitcher, hitter and first baseman. She exudes charisma.
And (I grimace as I type this), she’s modeled for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue and was named one of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people in 2004. In short (still grimacing), beauty and pageantry have an inherent role in ballroom dancing, and in call-in voting. But for the record, I will not be voting. Only watching and blogging. Like an objective journalist.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, retired NBA legend
I have two personal favorites in this season. Kareem is one of them. His footwork in the paint is still the stuff legends are made of, and I want to see if he’s still got it at 70. I’m also dying to watch how his pairing works out with pro Lindsey Arnold, who is 5-foot-6. Kareem is 7-foot-2.
4. Arike Ogunbowale, Notre Dame women’s basketball player
Ogunbowale has won basically everything else recently. Why can’t she win DWTS? Her two stunning buzzer beaters in the NCAA tournament semifinal and national championship were nothing short of incredible.
My biggest question is how exactly Ogunbowale is going to make this gig work. She’s a junior in college, which means the show will start while she’s still taking classes and continue through exams. Most college athletes end up taking summer classes, too.
On top of that, is DWTS paying her for her appearance? If it is, is that a violation of NCAA rules? If it isn’t, how much is she paying out of her own pocket to do this?
3. Tonya Harding, retired Olympic figure skater
Harding’s last return to the athletic spotlight — celebrity boxing in 2004 — was, in a word, pathetic. Fans booed as she entered the ring. She got her face pummeled. They cheered as she left the ring. Then came a string of documentaries and network interviews before the PyeongChang Games that revived her star power. The movie “I, Tonya” won critical acclaim and an Oscar for Allison Janney (whose previous best role was C.J. Cregg in “The West Wing”). In interviews, she was both charming and bubbly, and whiny and vengeful, lest we all forget that she “may” have helped orchestrate an attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan.
Harding, 47, is the obvious villain in season 27 of DWTS (despite the protestations of my colleague, Sarah Dunton, and others of her ilk who itch for a Harding comeback). But villains have a way of sticking around longer than anybody wants, so Harding comes in at No. 3.
2. Mirai Nagasu, Olympic figure skater
Let’s get the obligatory exclamation out of the way now, Tom Bergeron: She’s trading in her skates for heels! Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple axel in the Olympics in PyeongChang. The feat was stunning, even though she didn’t win an individual medal in the women’s singles competition later in the Games. Figure skaters, though, do tremendously well on DWTS. Meryl Davis won in 2014 with partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Guess who Nagasu’s partner is?
It’s Alan Bersten, but I made you think about it, didn’t I?
1. Adam Rippon, Olympic figure skater
As if you really thought anyone else was going to occupy the No. 1 spot. Figure skaters do tremendously well on DTWS, remember? And before Loyola Chicago’s Sister Jean came along, Rippon laid claim to America’s heart and the title “America’s sweetheart.” I’m not giving him up. He is perfect.
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