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Nagasu, Rippon take center stage on 'DWTS'

Olympic skaters excited to display dancing skills on hit ABC series
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Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon will turn in their skates for a pair of dancing shoes on the latest season of 'Dancing with the Stars.' -ABC/Craig Sjodin

When professional dancer Jenna Johnson found out she'd be partnering Adam Rippon on Season 26 of Dancing with the Stars, she started to cry and then phoned her mother in excitement.

"He is a dream," Johnson said. "Everything you want in a partner is Adam, but we have to work on his feet."

"We've gotten to work in the dance studio for, like, two days, and I don't think I've ever had more fun in my entire life," Rippon said. "I keep reminding myself it's a competition and I need to stay focused, but I'm having such a good time. Working with someone and having a partner is definitely new, but I'm so excited for it."

Rippon joins good friend Mirai Nagasu and two-time Olympian Tonya Harding on this all-athlete, four-week season of the popular ABC program.

"Our game is to not hold back at all," Rippon said. "There are only four weeks, so we have to come out and kill it. This is a season where you need to be ready."

Johnson sensed an immediate connection with Rippon, but it wasn't until this interview that they discovered they are each one of six children.

"I can see why everyone fell in love with him," Johnson said. "It brings a lot of expectation and pressure. We're trying to stay in our own lane and stay very focused."

Nagasu, who labeled herself a terrible dancer, said she's grateful that partner Alan Bersten is tall so they can try lifts.

"He's the best," Nagasu said of Bersten. "To connect with my partner has been a challenge for me, but I don't turn away from a challenge."

"I have never been more excited. We have great potential," said Bersten, who praised Nagasu's work ethic. "I didn't sleep last night because I was thinking of some really cool tricks."

For Nagasu, who qualified for her second Olympic team and made history as the first U.S. woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics, this is a continuation of an incredibly exciting year.

"It's nice to be in the off-season but have a new goal already," said Nagasu, who got to meet Harding, the first American woman to land the triple axel, Thursday. "I'm excited to compete against (Tonya)."

The two teams will spend much of their rehearsal time on the road, as the skaters tour with Stars on Ice.

"It's going to work to our advantage because we won't be in the same studio as all the other competitors," Bersten said. "We won't be intimidated or curious about how they're doing. We'll focus on ourselves."

Rippon and Nagasu met their partners a couple of days prior to Friday's cast reveal on Good Morning America. They have started to rehearse, but as of press time did not know their first dances.

The other members of the all-athlete cast are college basketball player Arike Ogunbowale, Olympic softball player Jennie Finch, football player Josh Norman, luger Chris Mazdzer, snowboarder Jamie Anderson, baseball player Johnny Damon and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

"Usually, we get, like, one or two athletes a season, so having a jam-packed 10 athletes during the season is insane," Johnson said. "You can see that everyone is competitive and wants to work hard. I'm super excited to see what everyone produces."