Lipinski, Tara

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Tara Lipinski


American figure skater

Although her competitive career in the amateur ranks of figure skating was brief, Tara Lipinski filled the record books with her accomplishments. As a thirteen-year-old, Lipinski claimed her first national medal with a third-place finish at the 1996 United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) National Championship in San Jose, California. The following year, in just her second appearance at the nationals, Lipinski took the gold medal and started a rivalry with former champion Michelle Kwan as the country's top figure skater. Lipinski beat Kwan again at the International Skating Union (ISU) World Championship in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1997; in fact, she triumphed over the entire field and won the gold medal, becoming the youngest women's World Champion in the sport's history. After losing her title to Kwan at the 1998 nationals, the two skaters became the most talked-about athletes entering that year's Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Although Kwan entered the final stage of the competition as the favorite, Lipinski skated a program that included the highest level of technical difficulty that had ever been accomplished by a female skater. Winning a decisive victory over Kwan, Lipinski retired as an amateur and started a new career as a professional skater. She also struggled to recover from a series of health problems that had been triggered by her intensive training schedule.

Figure Skating Prodigy

Born on June 10, 1982 to Jack and Patricia (Brozyniak) Lipinski in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tara Kristen Lipinski grew up in Sewell, New Jersey in a close-knit, Polish-American family. She started taking roller skating lessons at the age of three and demonstrated enough talent and dedication that she started private lessons the following year. Lipinski enjoyed the sport so much that her twice-a-week lessons soon turned into daily practice sessions; she even joined a roller hockey team as the squad's only female member. Eventually, Lipinski won over fifty medals in various roller skating competitions, including a gold medal in the Roller Skating National Championship in the primary division when she was nine years old.

Despite her precocious talent on roller skates, Lipinski did not try figure skating until she was six years old. "I was a mess," Lipinski described her debut on the ice in her memoir Triumph on Ice: An Autobiography, "My ankles bent in. My elbows pointed out. And I kept ending up on my backside. My parents were a little surprised I was so awful. After all, I was a natural on roller skates." After forty-five minutes on the ice, however, the young skater was no longer falling down and even performed a few jumps. A week later Lipinski started figure skating lessons at the University of Delaware, which sponsored one of the country's best skating programs. Her persistence and hard work in transferring her roller skating skills to the ice soon paid off with a second-place finish in a local meet.

Endured Family Separations

Although she continued to pursue both roller and figure skating for the next couple of years, ice skating became the focus of Lipinski's life after her family moved to the Houston, Texas suburb of Sugarland in 1991. By now taking three skating lessons a day, Lipinski woke up at three o'clock each morning in order to get her time on the ice before school. After a year in Texas, Lipinski and her mother decided to move back to Delaware so that she could train full time. Her father, an oil company executive, remained in Texas and visited his family on weekends. The Lipinskis planned on a one- or two-year separation, but after coach Richard Callaghan of the Detroit Figure Skating Club had an opening for a new student in 1995, Lipinski and her mother moved again, this time to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Looking back on the sacrifices of living apart for so long, Patricia Lipinski recalled in an interview with Nancy Kruh of the Dallas Morning News in 1999, "It was a disaster for us. The stress on the familyyou will never know stress like this."

Part of the tension over Lipinski's career came from the intense media scrutiny that the young skater encountered almost from the start. By the time she won a silver medal at the USFSA National Novice Championship in 1994, Lipinski had already been featured in several national publications and network television programs. The tone of the media coverage typically focused not only on her considerable talent, but also on the question of whether her parents should have allowed her to pursue an amateur figure-skating career at such a young age. Her parents insisted that their daughter's motivation was entirely self-derived and that they carefully watched over her well being to prevent her from becoming burned out.


1982Born June 10 to Jack and Patricia (Brozyniak) Lipinski inPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
1989Begins taking figure skating lessons
1991Moves to Sugarland, Texas
1993Moves to Delaware with mother to continue figure-skatingtraining
1995Begins working with coach Richard Callaghan at Detroit Figure Skating Club
1995Places fourth at International Skating Union (ISU) World Junior Championship
1996Places fifth at ISU World Junior Championship
1996Places fifteenth at ISU World Championship
1998Retires from amateur ranks; begins professional skating career

Won National and World Titles

Lipinski's first major victory occurred at the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival, where she earned a gold medal. Moving into the junior ranks, she took the silver medal at the 1995 USFSA Junior Championship. Already hailed as a potential figure-skating star for her jumping ability, Lipinski made an impressive debut in the senior-level ranks with a third-place finish at the 1996 USFSA National Championship in San Jose. Although Michelle Kwan garnered most of the headlines at the event with her stunning "Salome" program, Lipinski's bronze medal was good enough to earn her a spot on that year's U.S. delegation to the International Skating Union's (ISU) World Championship.

Although her rise had been nothing short of spectacular up to that point, Lipinski encountered her first major setback at the 1996 World Championship. Her performance in the short (or technical) program left her in twenty-third place and had almost disqualified her from the final free skate, in which only the top twenty-four competitors skated. Although she was shaken by the experience, Lipinski rebounded with a free skate that was nearly perfect, and she ended up in fifteenth place overall.

At the 1997 U.S. National Championship in Nashville, Tennessee, fourteen-year-old Lipinski stunned the figure skating community with a victory over heavily favored Michelle Kwan, who stumbled badly in the free skate. Lipinski's most surprising move was the triple-loop, triple-loop jump, which she had mastered only at the beginning of the season. Although her artistry and presence on the ice were sometimes criticized as too youthful in comparison to the other skaters, Lipinski's sheer jumping and spinning abilities were indeed the best of any skater in the competition. Despite her victorywhich made her the youngest-ever U.S. championLipinski did not go to the World Championship as the favorite, as most observers expected Kwan or Russia's Irina Slutskaya to take the gold medal. After Kwan and Slutskaya both made mistakes in the short program, Lipinski entered the free skate in first place. Again performing a perfect program, Lipinski placed second to Kwan in the free skate but emerged as the first-place skater overall. The feat made her into the youngest-ever World Champion in women's figure skating.

Few athletes in the sport's history had made such a sudden rise to the top of the American and world ranks in figure skating, and Lipinski's achievements came at the price of intense scrutiny. To some critics, Lipinski's victories proved that jumping ability had surpassed artistic development in importance to the judges; some also feared the impact of forcing young athletes to perform technically difficult moves before their bodies had fully matured. Yet as the most technically brilliant skater among her contemporaries, Lipinski also received praise for her single-minded dedication to the sport. An intense competitor, Lipinski did not give her rivalsespecially Michelle Kwana chance to rest on their laurels.

Awards and Accomplishments

1991Won gold medal, Roller Skating National Championship, primary division
1994Won gold medal, United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) Midwestern Novice Championship
1994Won gold medal, USFSA Southwestern Novice Championship
1994Won silver medal, USFSA National Novice Championship
1994Won gold medal, U.S. Olympic Festival
1995Won silver medal, USFSA National Juniors Championship
1996Won gold medal, USFSA South Atlantic Juniors Championship
1996Won bronze medal, USFSA National Championship
1997Won gold medal, USFSA National Championship
1997Won gold medal, ISU World Championship
1997Named U.S. Olympic Committee Sports Woman of the Year
1998Won silver medal, USFSA National Championship
1998Won gold medal, women's figure skating, Nagano Winter Olympic Games
1999Won gold medal, World Professional Championship

Her Olympic Triumph Now a Memory, Tara Lipinski's Skating in New Directions

The question in inevitable, and Tara knows she'll probably hear it the rest of her life. This summer, as she's been going around the country teaching children's skating clinics, it comes up at practically every question-and-answer session.

How did it feel to win the Olympic gold medal?

"I can't put it into words," she tells a group of about 100 children at a recent clinic in Plano. "It's a memory I can look back on that moment when you skated the best you could. It's a feeling you can't describe. I can't explain it."

Ah, well. She's a skater, not a poet. But hey, cut the kid some slack. She doesn't have to explain it. If you saw her perform her long program the night of Feb. 20, 1998, you could tell how she felt. Every square inch of her fleet-footed, 4-foot-11 frame seemed to radiate the fact that she was having the skate of her life.

Source: Nancy Kruh, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 3, 1999, p. K6313.

Olympic Gold Medalist

At the 1998 U.S. National Championship in Philadelphia, Lipinski made a rare mistake when she failed to land her triple flip jump in the short program, which put her into fourth place. Although she responded with a clean long program in the free skate, Michelle Kwan took the national title with a performance that ranked as one of the best in the history of the sport. Given Kwan's amazing performance at the event, she was immediately considered the favorite going into the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. For her part, Lipinski was glad to enter the event as an underdog, which motivated her to deliver a performance in the long program at the Games that ranked as the most impressive jumping display ever seen in a women's free skate to that time. In addition to her triple-loop, triple-loop combination jump, Lipinski ended with a triple-salchow, half-loop, triple toe loop combination. Out of nine judges, six ranked Lipinski ahead of Kwan; in winning the gold medal, Lipinski became the youngest-ever Olympic champion in the event, a distinction previously held by Sonia Henie . Although most figure skating commentators had predicted that Kwan would win if she skated a clean program, as indeed she did, their predictions did not hold true in light of Lipinski's inspired performance.

With the USFSA setting minimum age requirements for competition in the senior ranks, Lipinski's place in figure skating history as the youngest-ever American and Olympic champion would remain in the record books forever. Indeed, Lipinski's very success at such a young age fueled the drive to change USFSA rules. Although she was universally praised for her jumping ability, some critics argued that Lipinski was pushing the sport away from its artistic side in favor of putting on mere technical displays of triple jumps. Even with the rule changes, however, the trend favoring teenaged skaters with impressive triple jumps continued. In the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, sixteen-year-old Sarah Hughes won the gold medal by performing two triple-jump combinations, a feat the surpassed even Lipinski's performance four years before.

Joined Professional Ranks

In need of surgery on her hip, Lipinski withdrew from amateur ranks in April 1998. She joined the tour of Stars on Ice and resumed competing at events such as the 1999 World Professional Championship, where she won the gold medal. Lipinski also pursued an acting career with appearances on Touched by an Angel, The Young and the Restless, and the television movie Ice Angel. Her commercial endorsements included deals to promote Snapple beverages, the DKNY children's clothing line, and awareness of deep-vein thrombosis, a malady that Lipinski herself had faced after her hip surgeries.

Although she was criticized by some commentators for abandoning her amateur careerwhich had lasted little more than two years at the senior levelLipinski's

accomplishments during that period included national, world, and Olympic titles. Indeed, the teenager proved capable of becoming not just a superb technical skater, but an artistic one as well. The most outstanding jumper of her day, Lipinski's command of the ice allowed her to make the transition to a professional skating career at the age of fifteen. "I feel that I accomplished everything I wanted to, and now I can look back with such happiness while I pursue a pro career and keep expanding my horizons," Lipinski told David Barron of the Houston Chronicle in December 2001, "It makes skating as a whole so special to me."

Where Is She Now?

In a Today Show appearance on April 7, 1998, Lipinski announced that she would no longer compete in the amateur ranks. Her departure robbed the sport of one of its finest rivalries, as spectators had looked forward to future competitions between Lipinski and Michelle Kwan, the top two skaters of the day. "I experienced everything I wanted to," Lipinski later told Cathy Harasta of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service in December 2001, "I went to the Olympics for three weeks and had the time of my life."

Lipinski had to cut back on her professional appearances after under-going operations on her hip in 1998 and again in 2002. Following her second surgery, she became a spokesperson for an awareness campaign for deep-vein thrombosis, a sometimes-fatal complication from surgeries like the ones she had undergone. Although she still suffered from some residual hip pain from her surgeries, Lipinski continued to skate with the Stars on Ice program as one of its most popular performers. She also appeared in the soap opera The Young and the Restless and the television movie Ice Angel and planned more acting roles in the future.


(With Emily Costello) Triumph on Ice: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1997.



Brennan, Christine. Edge of Glory: The Inside Story of the Quest for Figure Skating's Olympic Gold Medals. New York: Scribner, 1998.

Brennan, Christine. Inside Edge: A Revealing Journey into the Secret World of Figure Skating. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Lipinski, Tara, with Emily Costello. Triumph on Ice: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1997.

U.S. Figure Skating Association. The Official Book of Figure Skating. New York: Simon & Schuster Editions, 1998.


Barron, David. "Lipinski Says Her Gold Won't Lose Gleam when Title Passed On." Houston Chronicle (December 10, 2001).

Sketch by Timothy Borden