Adam Rippon continues to electrify and inspire — even without an Olympic Games or ice rink as his platform. After dazzling fans at the PyeongChang Winter Games earlier this year, the figure skater followed with a sensational performance on the dance floor in ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” all-athletes edition over the past four weeks that was just as moving — and ended with him two spots higher on the podium.
In South Korea, he settled for a bronze medal on the ice. Monday night, he was the undisputed “Mirror Ball Trophy” winner, beating out Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman and retired figure skater Tonya Harding after dancing the fox trot and a freestyle number.
“I think he was supposed to be a dancer,” said Rippon’s dance partner Jenna Johnson.
ABC chose an athlete-only celebrity cast for a mini 27th season of the show that included legendary figures like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and softball pitcher Jennie Finch Daigle and active athletes, including Rippon, Norman and Mirai Nagasu, another American figure skater.
By the semifinals, Rippon, Nagasu, Norman, Harding and luger Chris Mazdzer emerged as the field’s top dancers, but Harding and Norman rode name recognition and rowdy online fan bases to make it to the finals.
The win for Rippon represents the continued success of his brand, one born in controversy, when, shortly before the U.S. delegation was to leave for the Games, he declined a potential meeting with Vice President Pence over the former Indiana governor’s stance on gay rights and conversion therapy.
Rippon’s playful sass and charm helped him emerge a seeming victor in the culture fight that ensued, and his grace and good humor in PyeongChang only helped his cause more. Now, he’s proven he can take his reputation to the dance floor — and prime-time network television.
Here’s an informal power ranking and recap of the performance’s from Monday night’s finale. Pairs each performed two dances: one selected by the judges and a freestyle. They were judged out of 30 points for each number and fans also voted online.
3. Tonya Harding, retired Olympic figure skater
Dancing Viennese waltz, score: 26
Harding and partner Sasha Farber continued to grab at the narrative that the former skater has been re-christened before the TV audience as a good person out for a second chance.
“I’m watching a born-again Tonya. You dance as if a weight has been lifted from your heart,” judge Bruno Tonioli said.
He also could have remarked on the elegance and sophistication of her waltz, though, and her beautiful line and storytelling. Instead, the script of second chances distracted from what was one of the better dances of the night and dragged her down to a 26 out of 30.
Dancing freestyle, score: 30
The narrative continued in the freestyle, when Harding emerged from the rafters to Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit, “I Will Survive.”
My eyes nearly rolled out of my head and dribbled down the floor.
The performance looked a gauche, overproduced, sequin-basted Las Vegas cliche. Judge Len Goodman rightly remarked Harding packed every move she could master into the dance. It felt tacky and overhyped, like accepting a bad but expensive birthday gift and knowing there’s no gift receipt in the box.
The judges disagreed. Each awarded her the maximum 10 points.
“That was so much fun,” judge Carrie Ann Inaba shrieked.
2. Josh Norman, Redskins cornerback
Dancing fox trot, score: 27
Given a longer season, Norman would have bested Rippon for the championship. He is consistent week-to-week and relies on the conventional-but-brilliant choreography of partner Sharna Burgess. She seems to have captured the attitude Washington fans are used to seeing from Norman: the macho alpha male who also knows how to ride horses. He’s the cornerback you want at a cocktail party.
His fox trot exuded that moxy. He’s so much stronger physically than the other contestants that his lifts are effortless and stunning. And yet, the very next moment he can fall into a gracefulness that Mazdzer, the luger, and Harding couldn’t find routinely enough to seize a top-two finish.
Dancing freestyle, score: 30
Norman’s freestyle, to modern football anthem “Walk on Water,” by Thirty Seconds to Mars, nearly earned him the Mirror Ball. In vast individual portions, Norman was flawless. His movements were swift. He kept wonderful lines. The routine was aggressive, intense and agile — all the best attributes Norman brings to the field. It was easily the best performance of the night.
Adam Rippon, Olympic figure skater
Dancing jazz, score: 30
Technically, it was perfect, like pretty much every other Rippon performance during this competition. Rippon and partner Johnson danced to Irving Berlin’s classic show tune “Anything You Can Do.” They practically turned the routine into a lip-sync battle, belting out lines between precise kicks and floating in hold across the dance floor.
When you close your eyes and imagine ballroom dance, this is what comes to mind: emotional, charming, chic.
“It had wit, humor, but technically it was incredible,” Tonioli said.
Dancing freestyle, score: 28
Where Rippon nearly muffed the title away was in this freestyle round, which, granted the previous two freestyle scores, was basically a free 30 points waiting to happen. Instead, he and Johnson tried an avant-garde approach that did not involve any ballroom elements and veered at its most awkward moments toward bad-talent-show territory.
“I can’t fault you for what you did, but I felt like I was missing something,” said Inaba, who gave Rippon a nine.
“For what it lacked in convention, it made up for in invention,” said Goodman through a grimace, who also gave Rippon a nine.
The marks still left Rippon at the top the judges’ leader board, where he’s been each week, and clearly at the top of the voters’ minds. His charisma on the show has been off-the-charts. He found a polite way to dis Harding in a wide-ranging interview with USA Today — “I’m not avoiding her but I’m not not avoiding her” — and called for a same-sex season of the show.
Both his quote and suggestion were met with Internet fervor, proving once more the man may not be full of solely good ideas, but he know how to work a room. The only question that remains is after ballroom, what is next?
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