Dancing With the Stars: Athletes Just Premiered and Two Mirrorball Hopefuls Are Already Out

Look, we’re not saying that gathering only athletes for a season of Dancing With the Stars was a bad idea on ABC’s part. After watching the season 26 premiere, we’re saying it was an…interesting idea.

For the first time in the long-running ABC reality show’s history, the competition has been condensed down to merely four weeks—thanks a lot, American Idol!—and comprised entirely of athletes. Usually, when athletes come on this show, they need some time to grow into the sort of kick-ass dancers who deserves the Mirrorball Trophy. But four weeks isn’t a lot of time. And based on most of the performances we saw tonight, we’re wondering what this whole thing will even look like at the end. So many questions!

After facing down scores from judges Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli, we’ve already said goodbye to two athletes. Like we said, this thing’s gonna be quick! Let’s break down night one…

Chris Mazder and Witney Carson: 21/30

The Olympic luger certainly has some star-making charisma and tackled his salsa to “Mr. Put It Down” with real tenacity, but was his first dance out of the gate gold medal-worthy? Not exactly. The footwork was a little safe for our tastes, with the choreography allowing Witney to dance around her partner and distract a good amount of the time. The judges seemed to be pretty into it, however, so what do we know?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Lindsay Arnold: 17/30

Dancing is hard. It’s even harder when you stand over seven feet tall. So, Lindsay truly had her work cut out for her getting paired up with the cancer-surviving basketball legend. Their cha cha to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” was truly something. Look, we love that Kareem’s out here, taking chances and having fun. However, that was a bit rough. And the judges seemed to agree. “You need to loosen up,” Len warned. “That little bit we saw, you need a little bit more of that going on.”


Jennie Finch Daigle and Keo Motsepe: 21/30

The downhome Olympic softball player seemed right at home dancing the foxtrot to Carrie Underwood‘s “All-American Girl,” but did that dance seem much shorter than the others or was it us? Bonus points for bringing her cute kids out on stage, but we’re with the judges in their critiques that Jennie needed to follow Keo just a bit more. 

Jamie Anderson and Artem Chigvintsev: 19/30

The Olympic snowboarder tackled the Viennese waltz along with her pro Artem to Avicii‘s “Feeling Good” and it was clear from rehearsal footage that she wasn’t feeling too good. But you know what? She wasn’t half-bad. A little stiff, sure, but the footwork seemed pretty solid. Of course, the fog covering the floor certainly helped to hide some imperfections. Bruno took her to task for losing her footing midway through, while Carrie Ann reinforced that she is more elegant than she thinks she is and only lost control because her nerves led her to rush. 

Mirai Nagasu and Alan Bersten: 23/30

She won a bronze medal at the Olympics this year, but how would she handle a salsa to Meghan Trainor‘s “No Excuses”? And how would she fare compared to her BFF Adam Rippon, competing later in the evening? The answer to the first question is pretty perfectly. Mirai’s dance was the first of the evening that felt like it was a finished product and not a work in progress. We’re not saying it made her an instant frontrunner, but…OK, yes, we are. We’re saying exactly that. And it seemed like Len was saying that too. But what was with Carrie Ann digging in on her while not saying anything all that critical to someone like Kareem?

Arike Ogunbowale and Gleb Savchenko: 20/30

The all-star student athlete from the University of Notre Dame tackled the salsa to “Them Girls,” making the controversial decision to forgo heels. And the judges weren’t feeling it too much. Carrie Ann gave her a pass for week one and praised her comfort in the performance, but told her she needed to do what they do around these parts and put those pesky heels on. Major props to her for returning to school first thing tomorrow morning after taking a red eye flight home, though!

Adam Rippon and Jenna Johnson: 24/30

It was Adam’s dream to compete on DWTS and the first openly gay Winter Olympian did not disappoint with his first performance, a cha cha set to RuPaul‘s “Sissy That Walk.” He and Jenna seemed to be having so much together—thought we’re still mourning the missed opportunity of having DWTS‘ first same-sex couple—and the whole thing was just so damn fierce. Mirai, you just got some competition, girl! “I’ll tell you what I think—that was good.” Well said, Len.

Johnny Damon and Emma Slater: 18/30

Baseball players have a history of being a bit stiff when they hit the DWTS ballroom, and Johnny was no exception. His foxtrot to “Centerfield”—a bit on the nose with the song choice, Emma—was full of personality, but especially coming after Adam, it just failed to pop for us. And judging from the judges scores, they agreed with us.

Tonya Harding and Sasha Farber: 23/30

Let’s be honest, we were all here to see what Tonya would do. Would the disgraced figure skater be able to translate her skating ability to the dance floor? It didn’t even seem like she was all that sure during that rehearsal footage. But her foxtrot to “When You Believe” had a grace to it that was rather unexpected. The ballroom seemed to eat it up—hey, Allison Janney!—and the judges were fans as well, but has her image been rehabbed enough for the folks watching at home? That remains to be seen.

Josh Norman and Sharna Burgess: 24/30

Josh is already talking about how he and Sharna are single, but the NFL cornerback’s going to have to make sure his footwork is up to snuff to stick around so he can get to know his partner a bit better. His cha cha to Bruno Mars‘ “Finesse” should probably be good enough to keep him around at least another week. The guy is brimming with confidence and had a natural charm on the dance floor, but his footwork felt a little wonky to us. The judges didn’t seem to notice or care, however. They even deemed him “the one to watch.” We guess they already forgot about Adam, who Josh tied with. But we didn’t!

After all that, it was time to eliminate not one, but two couples. Tallying both the judges scores and the live voting from those watching at home, Tonya, Johnny and Jamie were revealed to be in jeopardy. As Tonya looked like she might vomit, she was revealed to be safe, proving that maybe her image rehab tour has worked. Somehow Kareem made it through to dance another week, proving that in these next few weeks, just about anything might happen.

Did the right athletes get the boot tonight? Sound off in the comments below!

Dancing With the Stars: Athletes airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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