Celestial Orbit: Adam Rippon Finds Success in Entertainment Industry

After 2018 Olympian Adam Rippon hung up his skates, he transitioned to a career in the entertainment industry, appearing on shows such as Dancing With the Stars, Stars on Mars and Pictionary. 

Above: Rippon basks in the moment after being named the winner of “Stars on Mars.” ©2023 FOX Media LLC. CR: Brook Rushton / FOX

The following story appeared in the June/July 2024 issue of SKATING magazine. Click here to purchase a subscription. 

By Lois Elfman

Prior to competing in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Adam Rippon said he could be America’s sweetheart, and while he sees that as a time capsule moment, it seems to still be the case. While the U.S. men’s champion, World and international competitor and Olympic bronze medalist (team event) remains connected to skating as a choreographer, commentator and podcaster, he has also found success as a frequent presence on television.

Adam Rippon dances with his female partner on Dancing with the Stars. His partner is wearing a floor length strapless dress and Adam is wearing a red and black suit
Rippon and partner Jenna Johnson dance the quickstep on “Dancing with the Stars.” Photo courtesy of ABC/Kelsey McNeal

Immediately after the Olympics, Rippon won “Dancing with the Stars.” These days, he regularly appears on Pictionary” — the longer he’s done the show, the better his skills — and he has competed on “Name That Tune.” Last year, he reigned triumphant on the FOX series “Stars on Mars.” 

“I feel skating has prepared me for the entertainment industry,” he said. “Being in front of the camera prepared me and [now working on television] scratches that itch because I love performing. … There’s nothing better than to have fun and make a living at it.”

Rippon, 34, said he can feel the energy when people are waiting for a good performance. Gauging an audience’s excitement feels much like a skating competition. Every time he feels butterflies, he begins stretching, as he would before a six-minute warmup.

“Stars on Mars” took Rippon to Australia for about a month. The multi-location show was a meticulous re-creation of the planet and a space station. Other celebrities included Tinashe, Porsha Williams, Lance Armstrong, Ronda Rousey and Richard Sherman.

“They have so many hours of incredible footage; I can’t believe they were able to cut it down to [12] episodes,” Rippon said. “The experience was crazy. The best part about it was all of the people I got to meet.”

He didn’t realize how physically demanding the show would be until he arrived in Australia. He likens living with his castmates to skating camp as a teenager. Doing reality shows means you prepare yourself to be unprepared and have a good attitude. Going with the flow took him to the ultimate Mars landing.

After achieving his long-held dream of skating success in PyeongChang, Rippon took a step away from skating while exploring the new opportunities coming his way.

“When I retired after the Olympics in 2018, I wasn’t in an ice rink very often,” Rippon recalled. “A year or two later I was skating just a little bit, popping in here and there, skating a random session. I finally realized I missed moving my body. I missed training, but I didn’t know how to train as a normal person and not train with the lure of the Olympics on the horizon.”

Wondering how to train without high pressure, he called friends who owned a gym connected to the ice rink where he used to train. Now, he goes to the rink during downtime between gigs to see friends.

“Over the past year, I’ve started doing a podcast [The Runthrough] with my very, very good friend Ashley Wagner and our friend Sarah Hughes [not the skater], who works at NBC, and we talk about all the things that happen during the skating season,” Rippon said. “That’s helped me to feel way more connected to the skating part again.”

He and Wagner collaborated as commentators for the 2024 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and he also called the European Championships. This pushes him to stay up to date on competitive skating.

“Skating is something I’ve always loved and I always will love, and it’s so much fun to love it in a different way,” he said. “I love to watch skating. I feel I have a lot of knowledge that I can share. To commentate at the U.S. Championships felt very full circle.”

Adam Rippon competes at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. He looks to the left smiling with his arms outstretched. He is wearing a blue and purple long sleeve top and black pants.
Adam Rippon competes at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. Photo credit: Getty Images

This spring, he provided feedback to young choreographers taking part in the Young Artists Showcase. Rippon wants to do as much as he can to help young talent develop. He also choreographs for skaters, including the programs Mariah Bell skated to victory at the 2022 U.S. Championships.

“I still do choreography,” Rippon said. “This is the second season I’ve worked with Starr [Andrews]. I work a lot with some young kids. One, I love to help the younger skaters feel good about what they’re doing, and two, it’s an amazing opportunity for me to see some of my friends who are coaching and reconnect with them.”

When Rippon skated, he tried to pick music that he thought no one else would be skating to, which helped him feel unique. Today, working with skaters, especially the younger ones, they’ll often send him music they’ve seen someone else use.

“Sometimes, that’s a great idea, and sometimes I try to encourage them to find something that is completely their own,” he said. “I tell them, ‘When skaters see you, they’ll want to use your piece of music because you skated to it.’ When I work with young skaters, I always try to help them push themselves out of their own comfort zone in a way that they really feel in control of it and empowered by it.”

With older skaters, the music process is more collaborative. Younger skaters are often not that in touch with their musical tastes. If there’s an artist they like, Rippon will help them explore that person’s music. In other scenarios, they’ll look at different themes that inspire the skater. Sometimes, familiar classical music fits a skater and helps them develop their performance skills.

“I always think about how empowered I felt when I was young and I was performing something I loved, and I want the younger skaters — even if they’re in their 20s, they’re still younger than me — to feel really proud about what they do, excited to train it every day and excited to perform it,” he said.

While he occasionally feels a desire to perform as a skater, he said it subsides when he realizes he cannot perform the jumps the way he used to. But never say never. An irresistible project may arise. He’s got a few TV concepts in which he and friends can skate. If one is greenlit, he probably will not be able to resist the lure of lacing up.

In terms of unofficial performing, Rippon chronicles some of life’s adventures on social media, including a post about his success baking his own birthday cake. He had a craving for a Betty Crocker yellow cake with rainbow sprinkles. His husband, Jussi-Pekka Kajaala, had no idea what that was, so Rippon made it himself.

“I made it because I really wanted to. It was my gift to myself to give the gift of yellow cake to others,” he said. “It was incredible.”

The oldest of six children, Rippon knew from a young age how to cook and do laundry. A fondness for cooking stuck, and he’s good with a challenging recipe. Although he didn’t skate with a partner, he’s readily adapted to married life and being part of a team.

“He’s a very special person,” said Rippon, who notes that they successfully parent two great but demanding dogs. “I feel lucky that we met each other.”

The balance of show business, skating and personal life is deeply satisfying. Perspective allows him to fall in love with skating all over again.

“Skating is such an amazing thing; it’s connected me to so many incredible people,” Rippon said. “You can be someone else and still have this awesome thing and still be a part of this really fun community.”