“I didn’t really know what to expect, because my only prior knowledge of Tonya is never meeting her and just knowing that she was banned from skating. You know, my whole world is skating so we’ve never interacted before,” he told PEOPLE Now on Tuesday during an appearance with DWTS pro partner Jenna Johnson.
Harding was banned from competitive skating by the U.S. Figure Skating Association after she pled guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution in the wake of the 1994 attack on her skating rival Nancy Kerrigan.
Despite her history, Rippon, 28, said he’s only had positive experiences with the 47-year-old star, who inspired the 2017 Oscar-winning film, I, Tonya.
“I think that every time that I ran into Tonya, she was so nice. I have really only positive things to say about our interactions together,” he shared, adding, “She’s, honestly, been really fun to run into the studio.”
On Harding’s resurgence in the spotlight, Rippon was happy to have competed with her on the ABC dancing series.
“I think it’s really nice to see somebody take advantage of this second chance. I know that every time that she went out there, you could tell she was living in that moment,” the Olympic bronze medalist said.
Though Rippon revealed that DWTS: Athletes was a great experience, he does have one regret.
“The one thing about everyone at the show, everybody was so nice. The one thing that I really wish was that I could’ve had a week to experience the whole week of rehearsals with everybody,” he said, referring to his grueling travel schedule due to touring across the country with Stars on Ice.
“In L.A. because we were traveling all the time so we didn’t really get to interact with everyone,” Johnson, 24, explained.
“I really never saw anybody which kind of sucks. I would see them on show days,” Rippon added.
On Monday’s finale, Rippon told audiences that winning DWTS: Athletes would mean more than just earning the champion-status.
“The Mirrorball has now taken on a new meaning, someone like me is accepted and I feel loved,” he said.
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Though he received a perfect score and a standing ovation for his jazz routine during his first dance, Rippon got mixed reviews on his freestyle to Pitbull and DJ Kass’ remix “Scooby Doo Pa Pa.”
“This freestyle is different, corky, fun and totally embodies me as a person and I want to share that with America,” Rippon said of his freestyle, which earned him a 28 out of 30.
“I’m not afraid to be different or a little weird,” he also told PEOPLE Now.