Adam Rippon backs up his confident swagger with his skating in nationals short program

Adam Rippon in an eye-catching spin position.  (Jay Adeff / U.S. Figure Skating)

Adam Rippon in an eye-catching spin position.  (Jay Adeff / U.S. Figure Skating)

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Adam Rippon has no doubt he is going to make the U.S. Olympic team, and he isn't afraid to share that impression with anyone who brings up the subject.

"The only argument is if other mothers' competitors are on the selection committee," Rippon said on a media teleconference last week. "I've proven time and time again that I'm one of the most consistent skaters in the world. I'm a leader. I'm ready for this. There is absolutely no reason I shouldn't be on the Olympic team."

Rippon decided before the teleconference that he was going to be blunt. When it was over, he admitted to having some second thoughts about the way it came across.

"I thought maybe I sounded a little too confident," he said.

After all, he was the guy who had never lived up to his full potential, imploded at the U.S. championships in the last Olympic year, and missed the 2017 U.S. Championships with a broken foot.

"I've had visions of what I've done the past four years dancing through my head like a nightmare," Rippon said.

It turned out his confidence was more than justified, given the way Rippon skated in Thursday night's short program at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose.

Secure on his jumps, scintillating on his spins and sassy in his attitude, Rippon wound up a strong second to defending champion Nathan Chen, whose two successful quads racked up points that the quad-less Rippon cannot get.

But Rippon won the crowd at SAP Center with two minutes, 50-seconds of flawless skating and Jagger-esque swagger. He stared at the judges before the music started and wagged a finger in their direction during the program.

"I'm able to go out there and be unabashedly myself," he said.

Chen, who had a wonky triple axel, scored 104.45 points. Rippon, the 2016 U.S. champion, earned 96.52, eight more than his previous personal best at nationals. Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion and 2014 Olympian, was third at 93.23 despite a botched triple axel. Brown's score also placed him just ahead of the surprising Grant Hochstein, who ended with 92.18 points.

The three men on the 2018 Olympic singles team will be selected after Saturday's free skate (and announced live on icenetwork Sunday at 11:15 a.m. ET).

A year ago at this time, the sidelined Rippon said he went through a whole bottle of white wine while watching the men's short program on TV. He will never forget how frustrating that was.

"Yes, there's a lot of pressure, but I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to compete again," Rippon said. "Every disappointment has made me so much stronger, so much better."

The worst was at the 2014 U.S. Championships, when he staggered into eighth only two years after finishing second.

"I let the pressure get to me," he said. "It was a disaster. I learned my lessons."

One was not to get rattled by mistakes during the six-minute warmup, like those he endured Thursday. Rippon stepped back, analyzed what had happened and found a solution.

"I said to myself, 'Girl, you're tight,'" Rippon said. So he told himself, "Bend your knees and run around a little bit out there so you're not so tight."

He would flow from element to element, receiving no Grade of Execution lower than 1.36 on any of the three jumping passes, three spins and footwork sequence. His lowest component score was a 9.0, and he earned three 10's -- the only perfect PCS scores in the short program.

"It's so much easier to perform when I feel like I'm being myself," he said. "I felt cheeky. I felt strong.

"I'm wiser, I'm stronger, I'm cuter," he continued. "I'm poised and ready to reclaim my time."