'Dancing With the Stars: Athletes': The Top 5 Pairs to Watch

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DANCING WITH THE STARS: ATHLETES - ADAM RIPPON, JENNA JOHNSON
Craig Sjodin/ABC

1. ADAM RIPPON AND JENNA JOHNSON

Figure skater Rippon was the first openly gay U.S. male to medal in PyeongChang, but it’s his winning personality that made him famous. Van Amstel thinks Rippon’s new celebrity status will be a draw for voters. “At the Olympics he was an advocate for people to be themselves, and he got so much airtime for that,” Van Amstel notes. “I hope he wins.” One hitch could be the emotional toll of competing against one of his best friends, fellow skater Mirai Nagasu.

DANCING WITH THE STARS: ATHLETES - WITNEY CARSON, CHRIS MAZDZER
Craig Sjodin/ABC

2. CHRIS MAZDZER AND WITNEY CARSON

The luger won silver in PyeongChang, but Van Amstel thinks Mazdzer’s strength lies outside of his athleticism. “Dancing With the Stars is not just about being the best dancer,” he explains. “It is about how you relate to the audience, your personality and partner chemistry. Chris’s personality is contagious. And let’s not forget, he’s very handsome too.” Pro Carson also knows how to coach a winner; she and Alfonso Ribeiro were the champs in Season 19.

DANCING WITH THE STARS: ATHLETES - MIRAI NAGASU, ALAN BERSTEN
Craig Sjodin/ABC

3. MIRAI NAGASU AND ALAN BERSTEN

“In the history of the show, the skaters have always had an advantage because they have pretty much danced all their lives, just on ice,” Van Amstel says of the figure skater, who began her sport at age 5. Van Amstel is confident in her ability to go far. Plus, “Mirai is so likable. She is my No. 1 pick.”

DANCING WITH THE STARS: ATHLETES - TONYA HARDING, SASHA FARBER
Craig Sjodin/ABC

4. TONYA HARDING AND SASHA FARBER

“Tonya has a big mountain to climb because of what people think of her,” Van Amstel says, equating her to his 2015 partner, Paula Deen. The former professional figure skater’s reputation took a beating after the 1994 incident in which her ex-husband hired someone to attack Harding’s rival Nancy Kerrigan (who competed on Season 24 of DWTS). Then last year’s film I, Tonya painted Harding in a more sympathetic light. “She’s either going to be a big hit or a big miss,” says Van Amstel, who also notes that it’s been a while since the retired athlete has been in competition mode, which puts her at a physical disadvantage. Regardless, he adds, “This could be redemption time.”

DANCING WITH THE STARS: ATHLETES - JAMIE ANDERSON, ARTEM CHIGVINTSEV
Craig Sjodin/ABC

5. JAMIE ANDERSON AND ARTEM CHIGVINTSEV

The snowboarder is used to winning—she took home gold medals in the last two Winter Games. Van Amstel thinks Anderson can be a contender here too, especially paired with fan favorite Chig­vintsev. Says Van Amstel: “I think Jamie and Artem are going to do really well.”

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They first went for the gold, and now they have their eyes on the Mirror Ball trophy.

The celebrity contestants on Dancing With the Stars — all athletes, many of whom competed in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics — will have only four weeks to wow both the judges (Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli) and the voting audience in this truncated Season 26.

Along with Winter Olympians, the aspiring dancers also include former basketball pro Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; retired baseball player Johnny Damon; retired softball player Jennie Finch Daigle; Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman; and college basketball player Arike Ogunbowale.

“The slow starters of the group had better get going,” former pro Louis Van Amstel advises of the short amount of training time. Van Amstel now runs the Dancing-inspired fitness program LaBlast, which he explains was created specifically for fans of the show. "LaBlast is ballroom dancing, partner-free and includes all of the dances on Dancing With the Stars." He also adds: "It's to ensure people get a workout, break a sweat, and lose weight just like the celebrities on the show." (Sound good? Get your free week of LaBlast here).

Here, Van Amstel picks which pairs he thinks can tango their way to the top.

Dancing With the Stars: Athletes, Season Premiere, April 30, 8/7c (The finale is May 21)