Interview with Tara Lipinski

by Lorrie Kim

[Note: The Philadelphia City Paper commissioned and bought this article in December 1996, but could not run it for lack of space. Lipinski was in town to participate in a USFSA team pro-am competition, where she debuted what was to become her trademark, the triple loop-triple loop combination. I point to this article to prove that not all journalists were surprised by her Olympic win. -- LK]

Let other figure skaters be content with just staying focused and skating their best.

Tara Lipinski skates to win.

At the age of 14, this Philadelphia-born Olympic hopeful has already placed third in the U.S. and 15th in the world. In the past month, she has earned a total of $46,000 medalling in three international competitions: Skate International of Canada, Trophée Lalique de France, and Nations Cup of Germany. She can land jump combinations of higher difficulty than almost all of the women, and many of the men, currently skating.

And this is only her first year at the senior level of Olympic-eligible competition.

So far in the 1995-96 skating season, the women's field has been dominated by world champion Michelle Kwan (U.S.) and world bronze medalist Irina Slutskaya (Russia), as expected. But few could have predicted that the much younger Lipinski would be so close on their heels.

True, her recent silver and bronze medal finishes can be attributed in part to a women's field weakened by injury or ill health (Chen Lu, Surya Bonaly, Midori Ito and Nicole Bobek have all withdrawn from competitions against Lipinski this season).

And Lipinski's detractors have complained that she concentrates on jumps to the detriment of other skating elements; that she may lose her jumping ability as she grows beyond her current 4'7", 70 lbs.; that she gets more hype than she deserves.

Lipinski has moved to counter all of these criticisms in the past year. Her new coach, Richard Callaghan (world champion Todd Eldredge's coach), helps her with jump technicalities. She hired Sandra Bezic, the Steven Spielberg of skating choreography, to put together a balanced and sophisticated long program. And her recent stellar showings prove that, far from being over-hyped, she may have been underestimated by skating observers.

On Wednesday, December 18, Lipinski skates in a pro-am competition at the new CoreStates Center, along with fellow Olympic hopefuls Tonia Kwiatkowski, Michelle Kwan, Nicole Bobek, Todd Eldredge and Dan Hollander. This will be the first skating event at this venue, which is slated to host U.S. figure skating's Olympic trials in January, 1998. Remember Lipinski's name -- she's sure to be there, skating to win.

Q: Early this year, you began working with coach Richard Callaghan, who also coaches world champion Todd Eldredge. What about your skating has changed because of him?

TL: I think mostly my speed and my confidence, and we've been working on the triple lutz. I used to have a crossed foot entering the lutz, and we took that out. We're working on my jumps and my presentation mark.

Q: What are your short program jumps this year?

TL: Triple lutz-double loop combination, triple flip. We're not sure if we're going to do the triple lutz-triple loop at Nationals, but I am working on it. Right now I am working on other triple-triple combinations, but I can't put any more combinations in my long program because of the limit on triple jumps [eight].

Q: Your new programs this year are to the soundtracks from Little Women and Sense and Sensibility. How did you choose those?

TL: It was all of our decisions -- Mr. Callaghan and Sandra [Bezic, choreographer] and mine. They wanted me to go to the more classical side, so we listened to classical music and I didn't find anything. So then we listened to soundtracks, and I liked the soundtracks because it was classical but it also had a movie kind of sound. I watched both the movies.

Q: Sandra Bezic says in her book, A Passion to Skate, that she often gives skaters a private mental image to help them through their program. Did she do that with you?

TL: She said the music and the dress were princess-like. That was the image.

Q: Do you watch skating on television yourself?

TL: Every time it's on.

Q: Who are your favorite commentators?

TL: I like Dick Button, and Peter Carruthers, and Dorothy and Peggy. I like them all. I don't know them real personally, but I've met them.

Q: At the World Championships last March, you fell twice in the short program and Dick Button commented, very sympathetically, that we were watching you mature before our very eyes. Is that how it felt to you?

TL: It was my first Worlds and I was just a little nervous. And I put it together for the long [program]. So I was upset that night, but I wasn't really upset the next day. Everyone makes mistakes.

Q: Some people have expressed concern that as your body matures and your center of gravity drops, you may lose your jumps.

TL: I don't think it's really going to affect me. I only have two or three more inches of height left so I think I'll be okay. I can handle it.

Q: Who is the most interesting celebrity you've run into because of skating?

TL: When I went to L.A. to get my costumes, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman and all the other actresses and actors came into the hotel. I talked to Rosie O'Donnell and Nicole.

Q: Did they seem to know anything about skating?

TL: Not really. Rosie did, a little bit.

Q: This upcoming competition is a real mix of skaters, from national competitors to Dorothy Hamill. Has any of these skaters been particularly helpful to you?

TL: I think they all really help, to watch them on TV and see what kind of style they have. Of my competitors, I admire Michelle [Kwan] the most. And Paul Wylie; I really like him. He's really strong and fast, and I just like the type of skating he does. He has good music.

Q: What do you plan to do after your skating career?

TL: After skating I'd like to be a lawyer. My dad is a lawyer, and I like it. Right now I don't know when that will be, because I want to go to the Olympics and I don't know which Olympics it's going to be.

Q: Who do you think is the best-looking male skater?

TL: [Giggles.] Um, I don't know. [Silence. I can almost hear her mind clicking over various male skaters. More giggles.] I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Q: What would you like people to know about you?

TL: That I'm working hard, and hopefully I'll still be up there on the world scene. That's my goal.

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