Adam Rippon Explains He's Conflicted Over Tonya Harding's 'DWTS' Comeback (Exclusive)

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Adam Rippon might be on the same Dancing With the Stars cast as Tonya Harding, but the Olympic figure skater is still standing behind former contestant Nancy Kerrigan.

ET's Cameron Mathison and Lauren Zima recently sat down with Rippon and his DWTS partner, Jenna Johnson, where he addressed a recent Q&A interview with Pride Source, in which he declared his allegiance to Team Nancy.

"I think it's great that [Tonya]'s getting to have a moment," he said of the former skater. "I can't imagine what it's like to be her and have everybody just not want anything to do with you, so I think that it's really nice that she gets to have a moment."

"But I think it's also important that we remember that she was banned from skating for a reason," Rippon continued, referencing the 1994 attack on Kerrigan. "It wasn't taken away from her, she was part of something that was not good and should never happen again. At the same time… it's really nice to see somebody being able to have a moment and enjoy it, and you can see that she's really alive out there."

Harding's rivalry with Kerrigan was famously thrown into the media spotlight when Kerrigan was assaulted by a man wielding a police baton after a practice session in 1994, less than two months before she was to head off to compete in the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

The attack was orchestrated by Harding's ex-husband and a co-conspirator. Harding has staunchly denied having any involvement in the attack, but she did plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to hinder the prosecution's case against her ex. As a result, she was fined and banned from competing as a professional figure skater.

Rippon explained that he's really not had the opportunity to get to know or befriend Harding, or any of his fellow DWTS competitors, during his time on the show --  except for fellow Olympic ice skater Mirai Nagasu. 

The close friends competed together at the PyeongChang Winter Games in February and are currently touring the country with 12 other Olympic figure skaters as part of Stars on Ice.

According to Rippon, a lot of young professional ice skaters "don't really know the story" behind Harding and Kerrigan's infamous rivalry, and because she's been banned from the sport, he never got to meet her before joining the show.

"But she's been nothing but kind to me and very sweet," he added. "You can tell she's really living in this moment right now."

"She cries almost every time we talk about the show," Johnson added. "So I can tell she's really happy and she's enjoying the experience a lot."

Rippon admits that there are a lot of people who feel "conflicted" about having Harding on the show, but as the recent Oscar-winning biopic I, Tonya showed in stark, sometimes brutal honesty, "She had a really rough upbringing and she surrounded herself with really bad people and stupid people."

In his interview with Pride Source in May, before this season of DWTS kicked off, Rippon might have sided with Team Nancy, but he also admitted that when he met Harding for the first time she was 'very pleasant.'

 

Adam Rippon and Jenna Johnson recap week 2 of Dancing with the Stars Athletes! During our chat, Jenna reveals she's...

Posted by Entertainment Tonight on Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"Don't judge a book by its trailer," Rippon told ET during his Facebook Live chat. "Love her or hate her, she got chased around by a bear yesterday and she looked awesome."

Rippon was of course referring to Harding's routine with pro partner Sasha Farber on Monday's Dancing With the Stars, where the pair danced a quickstep set to Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman" and performed the number with a troupe member dressed in a bear costume, to fit the backwoods country theme.

Harding and Farber earned a decent score for their individual dances, (33 out of 40). Rippon and Johnson found themselves at the top of the leader board, tied with Nagasu and partner Alan Bersten, with a score of 37.

Check out the video below for more on Rippon and Nagasu's stunning DWTS routines, which earned them both the first 10s of the season.

Dancing With the Stars: Athletes airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Rippon will also be hosting Trevor Live in New York City on June 11, to raise funds for The Trevor Project.

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