Tara Lipinski

Tara Lipinski reflects on winning 1997 U.S. title at age 14

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Tara Lipinski says she can remember everything about the 1997 U.S. Championships, when she became the youngest national champion at age 14.

The victory 20 years ago helped catapult her to become the youngest individual Winter Olympic champion of all time a year later.

“It changed my life in that moment [in 1997],” said Lipinski, now an NBC Olympics analyst. “That was when you talk about peaking at the right time. I knew when I stepped off the ice as a national champion, I can be Olympic champion.”

In 1996, Lipinski finished third at age 13 at the U.S. Championships behind Michelle Kwan, who won the first of her nine U.S. titles. Lipinski then struggled at the world championships, taking 15th, while Kwan won.

So Lipinski was certainly not the favorite going into the 1997 U.S. Championships in Nashville.

But she delivered an unforgettable performance, landing seven triple jumps in her free skate, including the first triple loop-triple loop combination, to surpass the short program leader Kwan, who fell twice in her free skate.

“I always got very nervous,” Lipinski said. “Now to be a broadcaster on live television, I always wonder, why do I pick these professions where there’s a lot of pressure? It’s because I love it, and I thrive under it. Looking back then, it was interesting to look back and remember how nervous I was and then that relief and that pure joy. Then realizing what happened in the next year, and how I was able to get to the point that I did still gives me chills. I have to sort of pinch myself.”

For perspective on how long ago that victory was, check out this story from the Chicago Tribune:

Within an hour of Tara Lipinski’s victory at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday night, a “media alert” was on the information table in the press room at the Nashville Arena to announce Lipinski’s site on the Internet.

“Visit America’s hottest sensation at `www.TaraLipinski.com’ ” said the press release from the skater’s agency, Edge Marketing. “Visitors can dive inside Tara’s life by checking out her biography, famiily life stories and other fun facts about Tara (i.e., which of Tara’s talents might pose a threat to Martha Stewart?).”

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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir assess Gracie Gold

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KANSAS CITY — Tara Lipinski could see it in Gracie Gold during her warm-up before Thursday’s short program.

“It looks like she’s fearful,” Lipinski said on the NBCSN broadcast. “Gracie has to get mad.”

Gold at first appeared confused. It looked like she lined up to start her performance as if it was her long program before spinning around and resetting before her short program music started.

She would place fifth with a key error, doubling a planned triple flip.

“This is what always happens with Gracie,” Lipinski said on the broadcast of the flip. “You could see it on her face, scared.

“She can do a triple flip in her sleep. There’s no reason she missed that.”

Gold, the defending U.S. champion, is in danger of not making the three-woman world championships team going into the free skate Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Gold has struggled ever since topping the 2016 World Championships short program. She fell to fourth at worlds, then had poor outings in all four of her competitions in the fall and made a desperate move to visit her old coach after Christmas.

Lipinski and Johnny Weir spoke with Gold before the U.S. Championships. Weir said he shared with Gold his own story of struggle.

At the 2006 Olympics, Weir placed second in the short program and then fell to fifth overall after the free skate. A year later, he moved and changed coaches.

“I totally get it, but there’s a time when you have to grow up and you have to do your job,” Weir told media Friday. “I chose to change everything that needed change. I changed my coach, choreographer, where I lived. I threw myself completely off, and it was to my benefit. … You have to make those changes, be brave enough to do it.”

Lipinski questioned whether Gold enjoyed competing and said, “there’s no life to her skating right now.”

“You could just see she wasn’t all there,” Weir said. “I think she’s ready for the season to be done, so she can make the changes that she needs to make.”

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Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final

Johnny Weir, Tara Lipinski
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With the Pyeongchang Olympics coming in 14 months, any year-out figure skating predictions will lean heavily on what happens at this week’s Grand Prix Final.

The top six per discipline from around the world gather in Marseille, France, to crown the best skaters of the first half of the season.

The fields include every reigning world champion. The broadcast schedule is here.

NBC Olympic figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir offered their takes on the men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance favorites:

Men
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 301.47
2. Javier Fernández (ESP) — 292.98
3. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 285.07
4. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 279.72
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 268.91
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 267.53

Preview
Hanyu can become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history. The Japanese Olympic champion broke his own scoring records at this event last year, but he is not a heavy favorite. Fernandez, the two-time reigning world champion, is the only men’s skater to go undefeated in the fall. Chen and Rippon are the first U.S. men to qualify for a Grand Prix Final since 2011.

Lipinski’s Take
It’s Yuzu’s to lose, but then there are times you never know what you’re going to get from Yuzu. He could skate flawlessly, or he has these crazy falls and the program kind of falls apart and you can have Javi or Patrick Chan swooping in. … Chen is definitely a dark horse. If there are mistakes (from others), and he does his job, you can’t deny the technical difficulty in his program (six total quadruple jumps).

Weir’s Take
What Yuzuru did was very good at the NHK Trophy (two weeks ago), but he wasn’t in the normal state where he would have been maybe a year ago. But he does always bring it around the Grand Prix Final. … It’s huge that there are two American men in the Grand Prix Final. A year ago, we were looking at a world championships in the United States, thinking the Americans didn’t have a shot. Even if the Americans finish fifth and sixth, it’s a huge accomplishment.

Women
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 221.54
2. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 215.21
3. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45
4. Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 205.90
5. Maria Sotskova (RUS) — 200.35
6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 198.00

Preview
Medvedeva hasn’t lost in more than one year and is a clear favorite to repeat. It very well could be a Russian sweep, given Pogorilaya has been the clear No. 2 this season, and Radionova has made the podium in both of her Grand Prix Final appearances. No U.S. women are in the field for the first time since 2008.

Lipinski’s Take
Medvedeva is sort of like Yuzu. She’s at a different level. I haven’t seen a skater like her in a long time. You talk about the complete package, whether it’s artistry or technical ability. She has that. She has this unique personality on the ice. She has this charisma that captures the audience. She has a tough, competitive mental outlook when she steps on the ice.

Weir’s Take
Yevgenia Medvedeva is definitely in a class by herself, but should she make a small mistake, Anna Pogorilaya has been looking very strong this year. And (Pogorilaya) has the woman image on the ice. She’s the woman among girls.

Pairs
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30
2. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 206.94
3. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 203.76
4. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 197.96
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 197.77
6. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31

Preview
Duhamel and Radford, the two-time reigning world champions, became heavy favorites after the withdrawal of Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot due to Savchenko’s ankle injury last week. Duhamel and Radford are the only pair in the field that owns medals together from any major international competition (Olympics, world championships, Grand Prix Final).

Lipinski’s Take
I love Savchenko and Massot, I really do, but there’s something over these past few years with the Canadians, that when I watch them, I feel their fire. I don’t know if it’s their personalities or attack they have. It’s more of a personal preference.

Weir’s Take
The pairs has been a year of growth. Nobody has really delivered a stellar performance at any of the Grand Prixs yet. So I think Duhamel and Radford are definitely looking for that moment where they are the class of the field. I’m really missing (2015 Grand Prix Final champions Ksenia) Stolbova (injured) and (Fedor) Klimov this season.

Ice Dance
Field (Highest Grand Prix season score)
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 195.84
2. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 193.50
3. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24
4. Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) — 186.68
5. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75
6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 175.77

Preview
Two weeks ago at NHK Trophy, Virtue and Moir handed Papadakis and Cizeron their first defeat in nearly two years. The Canadians, who took gold and silver at the last two Olympics, are back after a two-season break from competition. A U.S. couple has made the Grand Prix Final podium nine straight times, and that streak figures to live on with the same three couples qualified from last season.

Lipinski’s Take
Tessa and Scott sort of dominated the French in their first matchup, but you have to remember the French made a lot of costly mistakes. If they both skate cleanly at the final, it should be much closer. If either of them have mistakes and leave the door open, it’s the Shibs (Shibutanis). 

Weir’s Take
My favorites of the season, it’s definitely the French. If their technique is solid, and they’re on point at the Grand Prix Final, they can overtake the Canadians, even though they lost to them by a considerable amount at NHK Trophy.

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