It is the moment Dancing With The Stars fans have been waiting for since last season. I finally have the cast for the all-athlete season, which will air April 30th.
Get ready, sports fans, for the most competitive season of “Dancing with the Stars” ever as the show fires up the scoreboard and welcomes 10 athletes to sparkle up their uniforms and lace up their dancing shoes as they ready themselves for their first dance on the ballroom floor, on the season premiere of “Dancing with the Stars: Athletes,” MONDAY, APRIL 30 (8:00-10:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network, streaming and on demand. This season’s lineup of athletes includes three Olympic figure skaters, a former Los Angeles Lakers superstar, an Olympic gold medal-winning softball player, a Notre Dame women’s basketball national championship hero, an American luger, a gold medal-winning Olympic snowboarder, a former World Series-winning Major League Baseball player and an NFL cornerback.
As announced this morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the athletes with their professional dance partners heading to the ballroom this season are (in alphabetical order):
- Adam Rippon with Jenna Johnson
- Arike Ogunbowale with Gleb Savchenko
- Chris Mazdzer with Witney Carson
- Jamie Anderson with Artem Chigvintsev
- Jennie Finch Daigle with Keo Motsepe
- Johnny Damon with Emma Slater
- Josh Norman with Sharna Burgess
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Lindsay Arnold
- Mirai Nagasu with Alan Bersten
- Tonya Harding with Sasha Farber
ADAM RIPPON – Artist. Athlete. Activist. Adam Rippon is a combination of all three.
One of the most dramatic figure skaters on the planet, Rippon won the hearts of America and the world at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Known for his refreshing candor and wit, his rise to fame on the global stage has provided him with a platform to speak out in support of LGBTQ rights and the freedom to be oneself. His passion and charm have made him an inspiration to young and old alike, and he has quickly become a role model and icon to millions.
In addition to his recent team bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Rippon has garnered nine medals on the international circuit over the last four years, including the 2016 U.S. men’s championship title. Always a team player, he has shared his artistry with his fellow skaters through music and theme recommendations and has choreographed programs for U.S. champions Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner.
The oldest of six children from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Rippon got a relatively late start as a skater at the age of 10. But once he started skating, he never looked back. He rose through the skating ranks, claiming the world junior title twice before winning the U.S. men’s title in 2016. He was named to his first Olympic team in 2018 at the age of 28.
Rippon also made the bold decision to come out publicly in October 2015 in an interview with SKATING magazine, which led him to become the first openly gay athlete to represent the United States in Olympic competition.
Rippon is currently touring with Stars on Ice through the end of May, www.starsonice.com
Follow Adam: @Adaripp
Follow Jenna: @Dance10Jenna
ARIKE OGUNBOWALE – 2018 All American and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Arike Ogunbowale is a junior at Notre Dame and member of the women’s basketball team, who recently won the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament. She was also named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player this year. During her college career, Ogunbowale has earned multiple honors, including Naismith Trophy Top-30, NCAA Regional Most Outstanding Performer, NCAA All-Regional Team, WBCA All-Region Team, ACC All-Tournament First-Team, EspnW National Player of the Week (11/21/16), Preseason WNIT Tournament MVP and ACC Player of the Week (11/14/16). She is a five-time USA Basketball medalist with four gold and one silver.
Ogunbowale graduated from Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she scored 2,240 points in her career, making her sixth on the Wisconsin all-time scoring list.
She is the youngest of three children in an athletically talented family. Her older brother, Dare, was a running back at the University of Wisconsin; her mother, Yolanda, was a softball pitcher at DePaul University; and her father, Gregory, played soccer and rugby. Her first name means “something that you see and you cherish” in her father’s native Nigeria.
Follow Arike: @Arike_O
Follow Gleb: @Gleb_Savchenko
CHRIS MAZDZER – Born in Massachusetts, Chris Mazdzer was just a few years old when his family moved to the Adirondack region of upstate New York, not far from Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games and home to one of only two luge tracks in the U.S. That’s where Mazdzer got his start at just 8 years old. Given the choice to try bobsled or luge, he picked luge simply because the line of other kids was shorter, so he got more turns to go racing down the icy track in a single afternoon. That eventually proved to be a great decision. Twenty years later, on February 12, 2018, on the other side of the world in PyeongChang, South Korea, Mazdzer made history becoming the first-ever American athlete to win a medal in the Men’s Single Luge event. Not just beauty and brawn, Mazdzer has a degree in business administration/finance; and when he’s done with his athletic career, he aspires to be a financial consultant. He is widely regarded as the team leader, both on and off the ice, and is a member of the prestigious executive board of the Federation of International Luge. Mazdzer is continuing his training and intends to compete for Team USA one last time in 2022, in what will be his fourth Olympic Games.
Follow Chris: @mazdzer
Follow Witney: @WitneyCarson
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a six-time NBA champion and the league’s only six-time MVP. He is one of a handful of influential and respected black men in America who has a national platform as a regular contributing columnist for newspapers and magazines around the world, such as The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter, where he shares his thoughts on some of the most socially relevant and politically controversial topics facing our nation today. After 50 years as an athlete and activist, he offers his perspectives as a nationally recognized speaker who regularly appears on the lecture circuit.
Currently, Abdul-Jabbar serves as the chairman of his Skyhook Foundation, whose mission is to “Give Kids a Shot That Can’t be Blocked” by bringing educational STEM opportunities to underserved communities through innovative outdoor environmental learning. A New York Times best-selling author, he has written 14 books, including two recent memoirs: “Becoming Kareem,” for young readers; and “Coach Wooden and Me,” about his lifelong friendship with famed UCLA coach John Wooden.
His Emmy® Award-winning HBO Sports documentary, “Kareem: Minority of One,” debuted as HBO’s most watched and highest-rated sports documentary of all time.
Before leaving office, President Barack Obama awarded Abdul-Jabbar The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Follow Kareem: @kaj33
Follow Lindsay: @lindsayarnold
JAMIE ANDERSON – Jamie Anderson is one of the top female snowboarders in the world and has won a record 15 X Games medals since she was 15 years old. Known for her snowboarding style, amplitude and strength, Anderson led the U.S. medal sweep with a gold medal at the first-ever Olympic Slopestyle competition at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and successfully defended her gold medal in Slopestyle at the 2018 Winter Olympics Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February. She also took the silver medal in the Olympic debut of Big Air Snowboarding, earning her second medal of the Games and making Olympic history as the first female snowboarder to earn two gold medals and the first female snowboarder to win two medals at a single Olympics.
Anderson was born in South Lake Tahoe, California, into a family of eight children. Her passion for the outdoors began early, since her parents homeschooled Anderson and her sisters, and urged them to spend their days outside exploring nature. She began snowboarding at the age of 9 and went on to become the most decorated rider in X Games Slopestyle history.
In 2016 and 2017, Anderson had record-setting seasons. She earned two World Championship titles in Big Air and Slopestyle and finished in first place at the Olympic Snowboarding Slopestyle Test Event in South Korea, Winter X Games, U.S. Grand Prix, Quebec Big Air, U.S. Open, New Zealand Winter Games, European Open and LAXX Open. She also took home her fourth ESPY award for Best Female Action Sports Athlete, reinforcing her spot at the top of women’s snowboarding.
Anderson strives to use her platform as an opportunity to make the world a happier and more healthy place. She has actively supported environmental causes and started a foundation geared towards creating snowboarding scholarships and support for kids who can’t afford to ride.
Follow Jamie: @JamieAsnow
Follow Artem: @artemchigvintse
JENNIE FINCH DAIGLE – Jennie Finch Daigle was born on September 3, 1980, in La Mirada, California, and grew up in a close-knit family. She was excited when just after her fifth birthday, her parents signed her up for her first t-ball league. She couldn’t wait to play just like her brothers, but this was even cooler because girls were doing it. Her love for the game and competitive nature were evident from the start, as was her natural athletic ability. She had great hand-eye coordination, and she was bigger and faster than most of her teammates. She also had a cannon for an arm. Daigle started pitching at age 8, with her father as her personal coach. By the time she was 9, she was playing for a 10-and-under traveling all-star team. At age 12, she led the California Cruisers to the 12-and-under American Softball Association national title in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1995, Daigle’s ASA team captured the 14-and-under crown.
In 2004 at the Olympics in Athens, the team dominated their competitors and won the gold. Sports Illustrated hailed them as the greatest team of all time. Daigle returned home from Athens, and her popularity soared. Endorsement deals from major brands including Sprint, Bank of America and Mizuno followed and allowed Daigle to continue to play. She created a signature line with Mizuno that featured a bat, batting gloves, shoes and mitt with her name on them, and together with Mizuno, pioneered the use of pink in women’s softball equipment. Pink and black became her signature.
In early 2005, Daigle and her boyfriend, former Major League Baseball pitcher Casey Daigle, were married. She continued to play softball for the USA National Team and for the Chicago Bandits, a National Pro Fastpitch team. The following year, in May 2006, a mere six weeks before competing on the international stage, Jennie and Casey had their first baby, a little boy appropriately named Ace. Through it all, she kept training and pitching.
In 2008, in the lead up to the Olympics in Beijing, the U.S. embarked on the Bound 4 Beijing Tour – 46 stops over several months. It was a bittersweet time for teammates who had played together so long, knowing that a decision was pending with the International Olympic Committee about whether or not the sport they loved would continue as part of the Olympics past Beijing. Daigle and her teammates took every opportunity to lobby the public and powers-that-be for support. But the long road ultimately ended up with a heartbreaking loss, first in the Olympics to Japan in the final game, and then with the vote to eliminate softball from future Olympics.
Following the Olympics, Daigle Jennie quickly regrouped and looked toward the future. She continues to act as an ambassador for both the game of softball and for female athletes in general. She conducts camps across the country and has her very own softball academy in Flemington, New Jersey, giving girls opportunities to learn and grow.
Follow Jennie: @JennieFinch
Follow Keo: @keodancer
JOHNNY DAMON – A Major League Baseball star for 18 seasons, Johnny Damon is one of the most outstanding, respected and durable players in MLB. After winning the 2004 World Series with the Boston Red Sox and achieving legendary superstar status in New England, Damon signed with the New York Yankees in 2006. In 2009, he won a World Series with the Yankees, joining Babe Ruth, to be the only full-time, everyday players to achieve World Series rings with both the Red Sox and Yankees.
A leader by example, Damon is well-liked and highly respected in the baseball community and spends a lot of time doing charity endeavors through his Johnny Damon Foundation. He lives his life to the fullest with his wife, Michelle, and eight children in Central Florida, where he has lived since he was 6.
Follow Johnny: @JohnnyDamon
Follow Emma: @EmmaSlaterDance
JOSH NORMAN – Josh Norman became the highest-paid NFL cornerback in 2016 upon signing with the Washington Redskins after spending his previous four seasons with the Carolina Panthers. As he enters the seventh season of his NFL career, he proves to remain one of the most elite athletes at his position.
Also a success off the field, he is a weekly analyst for FOX NFL Kickoff during the NFL season. Norman has been featured on the covers of ESPN the Magazine, Sports Illustrated Kids and Haute Living publications. He has also appeared on TruTV’s “Full Court Prank,” “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” Disney’s “Walk the Prank,” ESPN’s “E:60,” and countless other sports and entertainment shows.
Most importantly, the Greenwood, South Carolina, native is passionate about giving back to his hometown community as well as providing academic enrichment opportunities for youth through his foundation, Starz24.
Follow Josh: @J_No24
Follow Sharna: @SharnaBurgess
MIRAI NAGASU – Mirai Nagasu has never backed down from a challenge. She was one of the youngest competitors to win a national title in 2008 and remarkably has remained one of the top competitors in the world today. Nagasu earned a spot to represent the U.S. in the 2018 Olympics at the age of 24, where she made history by becoming the first American woman to land a triple Axel in an Olympic Winter Games. She performed the difficult three-and-a-half revolution jump, helping Team USA win a bronze medal in the Olympic team event.
An only child, Nagasu was born to parents Kiyoto and Ikuko Nagasu and raised in Arcadia, California, where her parents own a sushi restaurant. As the daughter of Japanese immigrants, she holds dual citizenship in the United States and Japan. She began skating at the age of 5, citing the fortuitous beginnings to her love of the ice. She quickly took the skating world by storm. She won the U.S. junior national title at the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Washington. The following year, in St. Paul, Minnesota, she won the U.S. senior title – an incredible feat for any skater. In 2010, with the Olympics on the line, Nagasu came through like a star by placing second at the 2010 U.S. Championships. She stole the show, lighting up the rink with her energy, poise and infectious smile. She placed a very respectable fourth place finish at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.
In the ensuing years, Nagasu battled injuries and coaching changes, but her passion for skating never wavered. In 2014, she came very close to qualifying for the Olympics a second time. She placed third at the U.S. Championships in 2014 but was left off the Olympic Team in favor of Ashley Wagner. Some skaters might have quit after such a heartbreaking disappointment, but that setback did not deter Nagasu. It only made her stronger.
In January 2018, Nagasu was the buzz of the national championships, and she was praised by many for her dedication to the sport and for coming back after the sting of missing the Olympic Team in 2014. She also proved she is still one of the toughest competitors as she won the silver medal. She was so emotional after her free skate program that she sobbed in the “Kiss and Cry.” This time, they were tears of joy. Mirai had made it back to the U.S. Olympic Team.
Nagasu graduated from Capistrano Connections Academy in 2011. She is enrolled at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and has been taking business classes. She has three dogs: Lexi, Lincoln and Liberty; and she is an athlete Ambassador for the charity Right to Play.
Follow Mirai: @mirai_nagasu
Follow Alan: @Dance10Alan
TONYA HARDING – Tonya Harding’s love of ice-skating began at the age of three while accompanying her parents, LaVona and Al Harding, to Portland’s Lloyd Center shopping mall. Besides the many stores, the mall also had an ice-skating rink. When Harding saw the rink, she wanted to try it out and discovered that she really liked it. Eventually, her parents bought her very first pair of ice-skates, and it wasn’t long before she wanted to take lessons, too. Her parents didn’t have a lot of income, so hiring a private coach seemed completely out of the question. However, Tonya’s natural ability to ice skate was beginning to attract attention. It wasn’t long before Harding’s mom approached Diane Rawlinson, a former Ice Capades star. With Rawlinson’s coaching and Harding’s natural talent, she won her first competition at the age of 5. By age 8, she completed her first triple jump; and by age 12, she began experimenting with her trademark jump, the triple Axel, and had already won several medals in numerous competitions. By age 15, she was known for her natural athletic ability and for being the highest jumper and fastest spinner among female skaters.
In 1988 at age 18, she became the first American woman to win a Russian award as a figure skater. In 1991 at Senior Nationals, Harding skated two perfect programs and won her first national title. She received a 6.0 for technical merit, the first perfect score any woman had received in this competition in nearly two decades. During her title-winning program, Harding attempted and landed the extremely difficult triple Axel. By doing so, she became the very first American woman, and the only other woman in the world, besides Madori Ito of Japan, to even attempt this jump, let alone successfully perform it in a competition.
Harding then went on to Worlds, where she performed this difficult jump once again. She earned the silver medal in that competition. Soon after, at Skate America, she performed the jump once again, breaking two world records and winning the championship. In 1991, Harding began touring with Tom Collins Champions on Ice. During this time, she was the first and only woman to land a triple Axel in both the short and long programs, something that no other American female figure skater had ever achieved. In 1992, she competed in her First Olympics at Albertville, France, placing fourth.
In 1994, she once again won the Nationals title and went on to compete at her second Olympics. However, a scandal involving Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly Stone, and some of his friends changed her skating career and dreams of Olympic gold forever.
In 1999, Harding made a huge comeback in the skating world. She was invited to compete in her first competition in five years at the ESPN professional competition in Huntington, West Virginia, where she placed second. In 2003, she appeared on the Fox reality show “Celebrity Boxing,” and not long after the airing of that show, she was contacted by several people in the professional boxing world. After giving it some serious thought, she hired trainers and became a professional boxer. She had a total of six boxing matches. Her current pro standing is 3-3. She has boxed in 10-12 exhibition matches to very large and enthusiastic crowds.
Most recently was the feature film about Harding’s life, “I, Tonya,” written by Steven Rogers and starring Margot Robbie as Tonya and Allison Janney as mother LaVona, who won an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress in the role. Harding is now married and has an adorable son and a wonderful husband. She and her family have settled into a peaceful, loving existence, and she is very happy.
Follow Sasha: @SashaFarber