Flashback to the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games: Fifteen-year-old Tara Lipinski was about to hit the ice to nail seven triple jumps in her short and long programs (salchows and toe loops—makes us dizzy thinking about it!) and best Michelle Kwan for the women’s figure skating gold medal. But all she could think about was her nerves.
“I had been preparing for this since I started skating at three-years-old! I realized that four minutes could change my life, and my legs were shaking,” Lipinski says. “I called my mom after the warm-up, as I do before every time I hit the ice, and told her ‘I can’t do it!’”
The confidence that helped her tighten her skate strings and bring home the medal still serves her well today, as she’s stepping back onto the ice again and enjoying life as a TV commentator for her sport-of-choice. We caught up with Tara to talk about why she really turned pro at 15, how she stays fit today and who she thinks will be skating’s next big star.
You seemed to be on the top of your game! Why did you retire at such a young age?
I didn’t think of it as retiring. I took five to seven years to make friends and be “normal” for a while. I felt like I had already accomplished all that I wanted to by winning the national, world and Olympic championships. And my personality always has me focused on ‘what’s next?’
Read on for Tara’s thoughts on getting back on the ice, becoming a commentator and who she thinks will be the next big skating star!
These days, you’re just getting back on the ice. How does it feel?
I took five years off after touring with Stars on Ice — and didn’t touch the ice at all during that time. I had a hip injury, so I healed and cross-trained. Spinning, running and YogaHop kept me in the same shape, but I have to say that skating is still the best workout for me!
And now you’re back?
It was so fun to take part in the Caesar’s Tribute in December. It felt like a big family reunion and was so fun to skate with Evan [Lysacek]. But I was still so nervous, since that was my first time completing a number in front of a crowd in seven years! I had to call my mom before since I’m very superstitious. I don’t have plans to compete again, but enjoy being back on the ice and love to perform. [Editor's Note: Tara stopped by our offices just after her first skating performance on TV in seven years on The Today Show. She did great!]
We hear that the world figure skating championships, which were going to be held in Tokyo this year, have been moved to Moscow and postponed until late April. How do you feel about that?
The skaters have worked so hard all year, so I’m happy that they were able to reschedule. But I was devastated by what happened in Japan. After the Olympics, I’ll always hold the country in a special place. Within hours of the tsunami, I called my team to try to learn more about what happened and what we can do to help.
Today you’re focused on your commentating career. Is it hard to critique skaters when you’ve been in their place?
I thought it would be easy, but it’s much harder than I expected! But since I’ve been in their shoes, I feel like I have a unique perspective. Scott Hamilton is a great friend. He passed along skating pointers, and now he’s passing along great commentary advice too.
Who do you see as skating’s next big star?
Nathan Chen gives me chills whenever I watch him. He’s only 11 and has already won the novice men’s nationals twice!
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