PYEONGCHANG, South Korea—“Nobody loves me as much as I love me; so I guess I’ll just be my own Valentine tomorrow,” American figure skater Adam Rippon said at a press conference the day after he helped the U.S. team win a bronze medal with his clean free skate. Either he really really loves himself or he hasn’t been on the internet much in the past 36 hours (he did say that Twitter kept crashing from too many notifications), because everyone loves Rippon. His stylish performance and the interviews that surrounded it pushed his superstardom beyond the skating world and turned the Olympics into the Adam Rippon Show.
Which is how I ended up in the mountains, at the foot of a halfpipe, watching snowboarding prodigy Chloe Kim win a gold medal and talking about Rippon. Despite being left off the Olympic squad this year, Ashley Wagner is in South Korea—she’s the alternate on the team and is shooting something with a car company—and without the same regimented training schedule to stick to this time around, she’s taking the opportunity to check out some of the other sports and try skiing for the first time. (She deemed snowboarding “the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” but gave a resounding “absolutely not” to ever getting on the halfpipe herself.) Wagner and Rippon are close and she was happy to gush about his rising popularity. “I told him he was going to be the media darling of the Olympics!” she said, insisting that despite his personal brand of unabashed self-esteem all the attention is much more unexpected to him than it is to his friends. “I adore him and the rest of the world is getting to see him the way I see him... He’s just so relatable and hilarious and witty.”
Rippon seems preternaturally good at managing the media—he poses for pictures with reporters who have overstayed their allotted time, and even teary-eyed answers are delivered without vocal tics—but if it’s an act, it’s one that he is committed to.
“He’s like this 24/7. It’s exhausting,” Wagner said with a smile.
Back at the press conference where Rippon lamented his lack of valentines (he’s looking for “a nice guy, who’s cute, who is really passionate about what he does, is funny, and is smart,” if you know anyone like that) reporters asked him if he’s considering a switch to politics after Pyeongchang. It’s a weird thing to ask a guy who hasn’t even competed in the individual event yet, but maybe Rippon’s up for the challenge.
“I don’t find it distracting to be me,” he said.