When she won the gold at the 1998 Winter Olympics at 14 years old, Tara Lipinski became America’s Sweetheart. Almost five years later, Tara talks about her thoughts on the judges’ scandal from the 2002 Winter Olympics, her experiences at the Oympics, her acting success, and so much more.
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Chris Yandek: What have you been up to since winning the Olympic gold medal in 1998?
Tara Lipinski: “Well, I have been keeping pretty busy. I am still skating. My life has really changed a lot. I had a hip surgery which kinda changed my plans for going professional. I joined Stars on Ice which I am touring with, and still doing that which I love to do during the wintertime. I have also kinda taken a different root with acting. I am trying to really flourish that career too.”
CY: What are you thoughts on the skating scandal involving the judges and the pairs competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics which actually also involved the mob, and do you think it puts any bad publicity on figure skating?
TL: “Of course it does. I think it was such an unfortunate situation, and the way it was handled giving away two gold medals it had to be done at the point that it was so last minute, and just how everything happened on TV and getting the public involved. It really takes away the value of a gold medal because a skater is going out to win that one and only, and to have two given away was a very unfortunate situation, but I guess it had to be done.”
CY: What was the feeling like when the national anthem was played, and you received your gold medal?
TL: “It is incredible. It really is what you hope for in your entire life. It really is better then what you dream of, and it goes by too quickly, but it is amazing.”
CY: How did you end up in figure skating?
TL: “Well, I started roller skating just because I was pretty active as a kid, and there was this program if you were a kid and you went for a day, you got a free Care Bear and I loved Care Bears. I went to the roller range and it said in fine print ten skating lessons after that you get your free care bear so I got hooked after that. I then after that switched over to ice skating.”
CY: How many hours did you spend training, and were the sacrifices worth it?
TL: “It was an incredible amount of time. I sacrificed a lot, and just my family sacrificed a lot. We lived apart, trained apart, and I would start my days at 7:00 AM not finishing till 7:00PM at night. I had 3 tutors and I was enrolled in an academy plus just doing the ballet training and weight training, you know the endless hours on the ice. It was all definitely worth it.”
CY: Did you ever look up to any female figure skaters like a Peggy Fleming?
TL: “I looked up to anybody who went to the Olympics, that was the main thing. I loved Chris Bowman he was my favorite, and Kurt Browning, people like that and anyone that like had charisma, it just really showed.”
CY: How is your health at the moment as far as your hip surgery, and how has it affected your skating?
TL: “It was a big part of my life. It took a long time because I was in so much pain. I was misdiagnosed for a while, and that was the reason why I turned professional. It was one of the reasons because it would be impossible for me to keep going at the rate I was, and he did his best to fix it so I have a prolonged professional career now which I am so grateful for, but yeah I deal with pain in and out everyday. But you get through it, and sometimes you just have to have things that come with the training.”
CY: What are you feelings on Sarah Hughes, and how do you think you and her are alike in for example you both won the good medal at a very young ages at the Olympics facing the likes of Michelle Kwan who was the favorite in both 1998 and 2002.
TL: “Well, I think being young I have always rooted for the young one just because I had so much trouble with people accepting me you know to really give me that shot because they had their favorites, but I think everyone of the champions is so different, but you cant compare Oksana to me or Sarah to me, but that’s what makes Olympic champions so special because they bring something of their own to this special group.”
CY: Do you think Michelle will ever get the chance to win the gold medal?
TL: “I don’t know. I mean I really don’t know her plans you know turning professional or staying amateur or whatnot.”
CY: Explain what life was like in the Olympic village, and did u get to mingle with the other Olympians from other countries?
TL: “I did. It was incredible and one of my favorite parts. I think my Olympics was perfect for me, and you know I enjoyed every part of it. I was there for the full three weeks, and just walking around the village with me and Wayne Gretzky and having lunch next to the snowboard team, luge team, and just the interaction, it was just great to be with so many different people from so many different places.”
CY: Why did you decide to turn professional and not give it another run at the 2002 Winter Olympics?
TL: “Well, it was mostly my hip, and I was in a lot of pain before the Olympics. They couldn’t figure out what my problem was, and I was getting referred pain in my back but it was really my hip. I already knew I was having problems, and knew I wasn’t going to be able to last, but after the next following summer is when I blew out my hip and I did a jump and it popped and I could barely walk for six months. That was a big thing so to see how that would go and take that chance, and with ending my career after the Olympics it was too much sacrifice because our family was split up for long.”
CY: What is your opinion on the Nancy Kerrigan/Tanya Harding incident, and do you think it gave the sport a black eye for the casual fan?
TL: “I don’t know. I hate talking about that because it is such an unfortunate situation, and don’t think it would ever happen again. I think now we have all come so far from that situation.”
CY: How much did you enjoy the Stars on Ice skating tour?
TL: “Yeah I love performing. Just to stand out in front of millions of people every night to perform and act and not just go out and do a program, but really connect with the audiences. I feel that is the most special part.”
CY: You had the chance to do a Hip Hop on Ice show. How hard was it adapting to skating your programs to different music?
TL: “For me it was easy, but I don’t know about the other skaters. It was my idea just because I love that kind of music, and making skating more interesting to a younger audience. It really appeals to kids my own age my own peers who watch it and making skating cool.”
CY: How influential do you think you have been on young girls who skate and being the youngest to ever win a gold medal how much do you think you have opened doors for these girls as well?
TL: “It is weird to think of myself as changing skating or role models because I look up to so many different people. I do realize I am a role model and totally flattered by it, and I really just try to be myself. I just try to be myself and you know do what my parents would be proud of me, and hopefully I am setting a good example.”
CY: Do you ever think at times that a lot of the sports media doesn’t give figure skating a chance or they don’t promote it as much as they should?
TL: “Well, I don’t know. I think skating is in the media a lot so you know we are out there. I think shows like Stars on Ice really showcases that it is just not an Olympic sport. It also can be entertainment, and not just an Ice Capades or a Disney on Ice, but also at different competitive entertainment.”
CY: You have worked on some campaigns against smoking. Tell me about that.
TL: “Well, I also spend a lot of time trying to give back. Me and my mom started that a while back, and I work with a lot of kids through hospitals and with the Boys and Girls Club. I got involved with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids just because obviously I am smoke free, and obviously most kids in this country are not, and it is such a danger to their health let alone or go into sports or whatever walk of life they do. I got involved with that, and it was interesting. I got to speak at the White House, and it was cool.”
CY: We got the chance to see you on the Teen Choice Awards. What was that like?
TL: “It’s fun. I am just not skating all the time, but I am doing the acting side of it and getting into that world. I really for four years I have been working with a coach, and do that very thing and it’s really settling in, and to go to those events is always fun.”
CY: You have gotten the chance to do some acting with Young and the Restless, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and many other specials. How much have you learned from the acting scene doing these different shows?
TL: “I learned a lot, but now I am learning more because I have been taking classes, and studying for four years and you have to introduce yourself to the industry because you know I am not just a skater who is going to walk in and start acting because you really have to learn the craft. It takes time so it will eventually build up, but it is something that I love and have the passion for, and it is something I would like to continue with.”
CY: Your latest acting role gave you the chance to tape an episode of Arliss a show on HBO. What was your part in the taping and how do you think it all came together?
TL: “Well, I actually know Robert Wuhl because he hosted a skating show that was a while back. I was asked to do this because he was so cool, and it was just this little guest spot where they had these athletes coming on, and doing this musical thing which was kinda fun.”
CY: Besides acting as well you got the chance to be on game shows like Hollywood Squares how fun was that?
TL: “Oh I love doing stuff like that. Just taking each aspect of my life whether it be acting or entertainment or shows or hosting I kinda love everything. I keep myself busy that way, but I did Wheel of Fortune and I watch Wheel of Fortune so much so I was excited to be on that too.”
CY: Your favorite music group is Destiny’s Child ever had a chance to meet them, and if so what was that like?
TL: “Yeah I did meet them. I actually skated to one of their songs they performed when they sang live and I actually skated at the Rockfellers Christmas Tree Lighting.”
CY: Finally, where do you think when it is all said and done you will be ranked as great women’s figure skaters?
TL: “(Laughs) Ohh I don’t want to answer that, I don’t know. Hopefully people just remember that I loved it a lot.”