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'I have a blast'
Tara Lipinski reflects on life since Olympic gold
Posted: Sunday February 21, 1999 12:36 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Remember Nagano? Remember the jumps, the spins and, most of all, the smile?
Remember Tara Lipinski's impromptu jig when she knew she had won the figure skating gold medal?
Lipinski certainly remembers, as crystal clear as if it happened yesterday, not a year ago.
"It doesn't feel that long, and obviously those are some great memories that always will be with me," says Lipinski, who upset Michelle Kwan for the 1998 Olympic figure skating title -- the most prestigious individual women's championship in sports. "I look back every day at what a great time that was.
"It's amazing to me how I did in Nagano. The more I think about it, the more I realize it was a great accomplishment, and I don't know how I did it at that moment with all the pressure."
Lipinski, who trained at the Detroit Skating Club, came to the games a decided underdog to Kwan. Even though Lipinski won the 1997 national and world crowns, she performed unevenly at the '98 nationals, where Kwan was spectacular.
But while Kwan, who was nursing a foot injury, trained at home for much of the Olympics, Lipinski, 15 at the time, took part in nearly every Olympic experience. It paid off: she was more relaxed than Kwan for the free skate last Feb. 20. Kwan skated tentatively. Lipinski was magical.
She'll never forget.
Not that she can, given the amount of air time her performance -- and her celebrations -- still receive.
"I see clips so many times when I'm doing interviews," Lipinski says with a giggle. "I didn't even think about what I was doing on the ice, it just happened. Everything was just natural at the moment.
"When I watch, I'm thinking how it felt so good to see how I skated. I didn't care about the marks or how I reacted. It was just me -- and I think that is what really shows."
Lipinski has had a busy year since Nagano. She turned pro soon after the games and joined the Discover Stars on Ice tour. She's appeared on "The Young and the Restless," "Touched by an Angel" and "Candid Camera," been interviewed by David Letterman and had her own TV special, "From the Moment." More TV appearances are in the offing, and Lipinski doesn't deny she'd be willing to give movies a try.
As for competitive skating, other than the odd made-for-TV event, don't expect to see her going for much gold. Further editions of Tara vs. Michelle aren't likely.
"I was always the underdog, I felt," Lipinski says. "If I had been winning, I would have felt I've got to be better and better and better to stay ahead. As the underdog I wanted to be better, but I was out there on the ice myself and never really thought about Michelle.
"But having the rivalry we had, as you call it, really did make us both better skaters, and we knew we had to be at our best. For my skating, I never really thought of it that way, other than to push myself to the ultimate. And I don't think I could have done any more."
So, before she could even get her driver's license, Lipinski was joining Scott Hamilton, Kristy Yamaguchi, Rosalyn Sumners, Ekaterina Gordeeva and fellow Olympic champion Ilia Kulik in Stars on Ice. She began touring in November and finishes April 3 -- about a week after Kwan is expected to skate off with her third world championship.
"I have a blast. I look forward the most to when we're touring, and it's so great when you're out there, an Olympic kind of high every night. It's really like when you're competing, the rush you get," she says with another laugh. "But without the nerves."
Lipinski certainly likes the company she's keeping. Her idols have been Sumners -- who plans to retire after this year's tour, but stayed for 1999 to skate with Tara -- and Hamilton, both 1984 Olympians. Lipinski wasn't even 2 when Sumners won silver and Hamilton took gold at the Sarajevo Games.
"Roz is like the one person I really feel I know, and I go to her to talk about anything," Lipinski says. "I love the mornings going to Starbucks with her and just talking.
"And I've learned a lot from watching her skate. She still has the best double axel on tour."
Hamilton, the guiding force of the tour he founded, calls Lipinski "the new wave of skating." Lipinski is, in turn, quite reverential when speaking of Hamilton.
"For me, it's truly an honor to be able to perform with him every night," she says. "His personality goes through all of us on the tour. He keeps us laughing and happy and makes it fun every step of the way."
With things going so well, might she ever consider a return to the Olympic level should the sport be reopened to ineligible skaters, as many project will happen by the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City?
"I need new challenges," she says. "I could be 24 or whatever, but I still would have accomplished all I set out to do at 16. So I don't see it."
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