Friday, July 22, 2011

Tara Lipinski: The Interview (Part 3)

In the final part of our interview, Tara Lipinski discusses her thoughts on current skaters, her acting career, life on tour, working with Lori Nichol and her part in one of skating's most notorious television specials.

As always, Tara is candid and one-of-a-kind.

AJ:  You’re known as a competitor.  Did you miss competing once you turned professional?

TL:  I really didn’t.  I still liked competing in professional competitions.  Once I make up my mind about something, I’m usually set.

AJ:  There was a great deal of skepticism about your ‘tooth issue’ when you pulled out of the 1998 World Championships?  How real was it?

TL:  I knew the moment I came home [from Nagano] that I was done competing and going to turn professional.  My lymph node swelled and I felt so sick when I came home from the Olympics.  My lymph node got so big and it turned out to be an abscessed tooth. 

AJ:  After the Olympics, you and Michelle Kwan never competed against one another again.  Was that a conscious decision by you and your agent?

TL:  I really wanted to compete against her again and thought that I would on the professional level.  I don’t know why it didn’t happen.  I really thought we would have.

AJ:  You toured with skaters a decade and even two decades older than you.  Was it awkward? 

TL:  It was so awkward.  I really wanted to be an adult at that time.  Everyone was cute with me and treated me like a younger sister, but I wasn’t included in watching Ally McBeal with everyone and cracking jokes because I was so young. It is understandable because who wants to hang out with a fifteen-year-old kid?

TL: Did your parents travel with you on tour?

AL:  I told them to go home.  I had three tutors who traveled with me because my dad made sure that I finished school and got straight As.

AJ:  Who were you closest with on tour?

TL: I was closest with Kurt because he is such a big kid himself.  We were our own dysfunctional family and everyone had their own tiffs, but we always came together and were fine by show time.  I feel like I could call anyone from the tour up if I ever needed anything.  We really were our own type of dysfunctional, yet functional family.

AJ:  Would you say that Stars on Ice was more dysfunctional than Champions on Ice?

TL:  They were both dysfunctional in their own way, but the group is so much smaller on Stars that you get closer.

AJ:  Did you keep in touch with your friends from Champions on Ice after you left?  You were very close with Rudy Galindo during your years on Champions on Ice.

TL:  If there was one reason that made me doubt leaving Champions on Ice, it was Mr. Galindo.  I love him.  He was my life.  I loved Rudy [Galindo] and [Alexei] Yagudin.

AJ:  How much did your hip affect you on tour?

TL:  My hip flared up on and off for my first two years on tour.  After surgery, I was supposed to be off the ice for months but was back on the ice in seven days because I felt that I needed to do it.  My hip was fine and my jumps actually got higher and stronger after the surgery.  I did fall on my hip on a lateral triple toe and had a huge fall where I had a contusion and my hip filled with fluid.  I needed to be off the ice for two weeks, but I needed to skate on tour. 

AJ:  Did you keep in touch with your skating friends during your hiatus?
TL:  I really didn’t keep in touch with anyone from Stars [on Ice.]  We never really called each other during our breaks.  We were with one another all the time, but I never called Kurt [Browning] or Scott [Hamilton] during the summers.  Everyone picked up right where we left off when the fall rolled around.  So, I didn’t really call anyone from tour or anything like that because I never really had.  I definitely feel that if I ever wanted to chat with  Kristi [Yamaguchi], I could call her right now or anyone else. You have a bond like a family, so you know they'll always be there for you and vice versa.

AJ:  You guest starred on The Young and the Restless.  How did that come about and what was it like?

TL:  I had a production deal with CBS at the time and that is how I got my initial acting roles on Touched By An Angel and The Young and the Restless.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do it initially.  Once I started doing it, I took it very seriously.  I filmed a couple days a week.  I was an outsider, so I didn’t know everyone, but it was a good experience.  I definitely wanted to do well and worked hard and I did make one amazing friend on the show.  From there, I started doing some voiceover work and really enjoyed that.

AJ:  Why did you stop acting?

TL:  I took acting lessons when I was auditioning and I enjoyed it, but I stopped doing as much when the CBS offers stopped coming in.  I took classes with friends and went on auditions, but I never did the audition circuit.  I have a number of friends who are actors and they give their entire lives to acting the way I did for skating and it takes years.  I wasn’t prepared to give myself to acting like that.  I did do Still Standing and Malcolm in the Middle after that time, which I'm proud of.

AJ:  You’re very well spoken for someone who rarely went to an actual school.  Have you thought about going to college?

TL:  I definitely took school seriously and still want to have an education.  In the past, I didn’t really know what I’d study.  Now that I’ve gotten into commentary, I feel that I could go to school and focus on that.  That is something that I’ve really been thinking about for the last year.

AJ:  You wanted to have a skating camp this summer.  Is it something you’re still hoping to do?

TL:  I wanted to have a camp this summer, but I rushed it.  I know that Lindsey [Webber] and I would’ve loved to go to a camp.  I want to have a real camp with activities, but also have it be legitimate and teach skaters the things that I believe in.  So, I’m definitely working out the details to be able to do it.  Holding the camp was too complex to have the million details done for this summer.

AJ:  You’ve mentioned in interviews that you like aspects of the International Judging System.  Do you like watching the actual skating as much as the skating done in your era?

TL:  There is something magical about the 6.0 system.  I think that skating needed to progress and change and they’ve definitely worked out some of the kinks with IJS, but it is still subjective and difficult to understand.  Eventually, there will be skaters who come along and can do all of the technical elements and also be artistic, and then the system will make more sense.

AJ:  Interviewers always tried to get you to say you were rooting for Michelle Kwan in 2002 or later on, but you always mentioned rooting for Sasha Cohen or some other skating villain.  Was that conscious?

TL:  I have to say that I really was a Sasha fan!

AJ:  Many skating fans debate whether or not you prefer Mao Asada or Yu-Na Kim based on your commentary.  Do you have a preference?

TL:  I don’t think I do.  They are both so different and there are things I appreciate about both of them.  Yu-Na’s Olympic performances were unreal, just amazing.  Then, there are things I love about Mao.  I love that she came back and did those triple axels at the Olympics considering everything she went through.  They have such different styles of skating.  This is probably the politically correct answer, but I really do appreciate both of them.

AJ:  Do you think there are any American ladies on the horizon that can be the best in the world?

TL: God, I hope so.  I really like Agnes [Zawadzki] and if you asked me a year ago, I would’ve said her.  We really didn’t see the Grand Prix season that I was expecting from her.  We’ll have to wait and see.

AJ:  What do you expect from Alissa Czisny this season?

TL:  I love Alissa.  She is such a beautiful skater.  I really hope that we see her skate like she did this season.

AJ:  Is a lack of speed your biggest pet peeve as a commentator?

TL:  I don't know why it bugs me so much.  I guess it bugs me because it is so easy to fix compared to other things.

AJ:  Do you think it is possible for talented skaters like Mirai Nagasu to finally put it all together?

TL:  I’d like to think so.  I always like to think that someone can improve.  Then again, when you look back at the great champions, they always seemed to have ‘it.’  Brian Boitano always had ‘it.’  Michelle Kwan always had ‘it.’  Kristi Yamaguchi always had ‘it.’  So did Katarina Witt.  There are some things that you’re just born with.

AJ:  Do you expect Evan Lysacek to win again this season?

TL:  I hope so.  I know how hard he trains.  In order to come back after an Olympics, you have to have a ton of confidence in yourself.  

AJ:  Are there any skaters you’re big fans of?

TL: I’m obsessed with Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White.]  I love them and hope that they bring ice dance to the mainstream audience.  It is amazing what Tanith [Belbin] and Ben [Agosto] and now Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White] have accomplished.  I never paid as much attention to ice dance before, but I love it. 

AJ:  Tara, you were the headliner for a historic night in figure skating.  I’m not talking about the Olympics.  You headlined Tara Lipinski’s Hip Hop on Ice.  Yuka Sato wore a Mohawk.  Was that your idea?

TL:  I really wanted to do Hip Hop on Ice.  Looking back you might laugh, but we all had such a good time doing that show.  I always tried to be genuine and true to myself.  When I was 17, I really wanted to skate to Genie in a Bottle because I loved Christina Aguilera.  You can laugh now, but I always tried to be myself.

AJ:  Your artistry improved tremendously as a professional.  You also began working with Lori Nichol at the end of your career.  How do Lori Nichol and Sandra Bezic compare?

TL:  Lori and Sandra have two very different styles.  Sandra is very classical and sexy.  Lori changed my life.  She has such a distinct movement.  When I worked with Sandra, we put on the music and moved on the ice together.  When I did The Color of Roses with Lori, she let me play around do a lot of the choreography on my own and then would go in and fix it and make it work.

AJ:  Did you ever see The Rainbow?

TL:  Yes.  Sandra [Bezic] and I decided to come up with our own story.

AJ:  Which programs are your favorites?

TL: I loved The Color of Roses because I was feeling very artistic at that time in my life.  I also loved The Second Element and Dream Catcher because it was the first time I really felt the movement and felt mature.  I even loved Genie in a Bottle and American Woman at the time because it was who I was.  I’d have to say that Forever, which I did on Today, is extremely personal because it is four years of my life put into three minutes.  I always try to pick music with lyrics that mean something to me.

AJ:  How is Erin [Elbe] doing?

TL: She is well and just had a baby.  I’m a proud godmother.

AJ:  How is Uncle Phil?

TL:  Uncle Phil and Aunt Edith are doing really well.  Their son and his kids were just down here in Kiawah Island for the Fourth of July. 

AJ:  One last question…which of your competitors had the most intimidating bitch face in the locker room?

TL:  I’d have to say Maria Butyrskaya.  She scared me.  I was such a little kid setting up my lucky gargoyle and she was definitely intimidating.

AJ:  Thank you so much.  I might not hate you anymore.  You're a fellow Jersey girl.

TL:  You’re welcome.  I’m from New Jersey, how can you hate me?

Getting to Know Tara

Favorite Skaters:

Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning, Chris Bowman and Alexei Yagudin

Favorite Ice Dance Diva of All Time:


Signature Starbucks/ Dunkin Donuts Drink:

Skinny Vanilla Latte

Favorite Skating Dress Designer:

Jef Billings

Favorite Short Program Element:

Jump Combination

Least Favorite Short Program Element:

I don't have a least favorite.  Every element needs to be good in the short program.  I even liked the double axel.

Current Obsessions:
Vanilla Cupcake Fishies
Slow Churned Choc Fudge Brownie Ice Cream
Anything Adele
Beyonce's Best Thing I Never Had video
So You Think You Can Dance
YSL (fall line) suede high heels
Missoni bikinis (always a summer obsession)
My new puppy Dublin

Favorite Stars on Ice Group Numbers:
Tough one!  Let's Get It On, Wonderful World (and the costumes), Clownin Around, Tunnel Vision, Lady Marmalade

Favorite Skating Costumes (other than your own)
I would have to go with Michelle Kwan's Salome.  I was in awe of her that year at Worlds.  I also loved Brian Boitano's Olympic costume.  It is a classic.  I usually love Alissa Czisny's costumes.  I thought her blue long program dress from this year was so elegant.

Top Skating Superstitions:
When I competed, I would hand my coach my guards and he couldn't put them down until I was finished.
I had to be first on the ice for the five-minute warm up.
Pasta pre-game meal.
Stars on Ice 'goodies'  we would do in the tunnel before the show.  

Favorite Russian Expression You've Picked Up:
I love my Russian pet name, Tarochka.  I love adding uchka or ochka to the end of my friends' names.

Most Memorable Thing Dick Button Ever Said About You:
I always tease Dick about the layback comments!  I always remember this one moment.  He commentated the Champions on Ice TV show when I skated to Gliding/If You Believe and he talked about how grown up I was and how I looked like I was settling into the role of Olympic Champion.  I don't know why, but that always stuck with me.  I was very proud of that moment.  It was a small thing, but I just remember thinking 'Wow, Dick's proud of me!'


  1. Part three is my favorite because I cannot get enough of Tara's opinions. The interviewer has done a marvelous job presenting this. I wish that Butyrskaya had been properly medicated because she scared a lot of people backstage. I think it was Maria's nerves and not at all her true personality.

  2. I kind of love the way she acknowledges how silly "Hip Hop on Ice" was and yet totally owns how she loved it at the time. I don't know why I think that's totally charming, but there it is.

  3. I really love this interview, but there is one factor in this Michelle vs Tara fan war that I have never seen mentioned. Am I the only one who has noticed, going back ten years all the way to now, that as die hard as Michelle's fans are, she is no where near as in contact with them as Tara is to her fans ? For years following skating dating back to the late 90s, I have contacted both Tara and Michelle for an autograph, a picture, a letter, ect, and the only one who ever sent more than a photocopy of an actual autograph was Tara. Repeatedly. She sends hand written thank you cards to fans who have sent gifts, signs pictures if you send them to her, ect. She seems to be much more appreciative of her fans than Michelle. When I met Michelle, I was very disappointed. She is not at all what I thought. This coming from a die hard Michelle fan. AJ, try to get Michelle to do an interview. It will never happen. I will love Kwan's skating forever, but I am no longer fooling myself about the person she is.

  4. @7:26AM

    Okay, but compare the volume of fanmail Michelle Kwan gets to what Tara likely gets. Tara was only around for one Olympic cycle... Michelle produced programs through three. The number of people Michelle Kwan was able to reach through the years is exponentially more than Tara did. Plus, Michelle Kwan was very much touted as the greatest by the US media. Even with Tara as the reigning World Champion, I never for a moment thought anyone could beat Michelle. She was always a superstar.

    I think it's awesome that Tara gets back to her fans, but I also wouldn't use that as a judgment against Michelle. When I met her, she was nothing but gracious and thankful.

    Great interview, AJ. I hope you're able to do others in the future!

  5. @7:26 am. Oh come on, Michelle's awesome. I knew her as a teenager and she was always so nice to everybody. I saw her giving out many a signed pic and very graciously posing for pictures with anybody even after tiring training sessions. I'm sure the demands for this stuff increased massively after the Olympics. She's had to do this for many many years, and she always struck me as rather a private person who needs her space. Anyone can have an off day.

  6. @ 9:37 - Yes, Michelle was around for 3 cycles... because she never won. And as for you never thinking for a moment that no one could beat Michelle, obviously you were wrong. Unfortunately for you, you don't want to believe that Tara was popular and will go down in the history books for an Olympic Gold medal and Michelle won't. I also don't think Tara had a "low" volume of fan mail considering she was on every talk show, magazine cover, and had multiple endorsement deals around the time of her Olympic win. I've never met either of them but I'm equally a Tara fan as much as I am a Michelle fan.

  7. Also hasn't it been long (long as in since MK retired) established that even though MK will go in history books without the words "Olympic Champion" preceding her name, MK will definitely go down as one of the greatest skaters, and that her long, amazing career has transcended that elusive OGM.

    IMO, it's far more impressive to be remembered as *the* Michelle Kwan first and foremost, rather than Olympic Champion first. MK's career was much, much more than an OGM. Just imagine all the world could have missed out on if she had retired years before she actually did.

  8. Michelle might not send back handwritten cards but she is extraordinarily nice to her fans. I met her years ago when Champions on Ice came to my city. On her day off she did a local talk show and even though the Champions on Ice rep that came with her kept trying to take her away so she could go back to the hotel and rest, Michelle adamantly refused to leave and insisted on staying until all of us in the audience had both autographs and pictures with her. She was amazing and I have never forgotten that day.

  9. @11:01

    Calm down with the hostility, I never said that Tara wasn't impressive or that her achievements weren't incredible. All I said was that going at Michelle for not answering fan mail was kind of ridiculous, all things considered. Tara probably received a lot post-Olympics, but I'm sure it tapered off after a year or so like it does with every other Olympic champion. Michelle was around for longer, so more people were exposed to her hence she has many more fans than Tara did/does. That was my point. But it's cute that you're so irritated.

  10. great interview. great responses.

    glad to have AJ back!

  11. Whats interested me the most is how aware she was of competitors. As a gymnastics fan, it always shocks me how the gymnasts don't know the names of the gymnasts from other countries or what skills they are doing. Most don't even know what elements in their routine are required!

  12. I find it interesting that she doesn't care about Lysacek not doing quads and apparently not caring if men do quads

  13. FWIW, Michelle wrote back to me both times that I wrote to her (and she's written to many other fans, as well). Both times she also hand addressed the enelope, IIRC.

    I sent her a letter after Nagano and she replied with a hand-written "Dear _____, Thank you for your support! Heart, Michelle Kwan" on a photo of her Nat's '98 Lp end pose.

    Then, maybe arond 2000, I sent her 2 inexpensive gifts and she again replied with a hand-written note. This time it was on a white card with a skate in the corner, and she wrote something similar, and thanked me for the specific items that I sent her. She went beyond what was "required."

    When I contacted Tara last year to compliment her commentating, she didn't reply. It would've been nice to hear back from her, but it's fine b/c I wasn't writing to get something from her, but to thank her for what she'd already given me - decent commentary, for a change!

    In recent years, I would've liked to hear more from and see more of Michelle, too, but if I were in her position, I'd probably be lying rather low, too. Some people are just more private than others - kinda refreshing in the days of sec-by-sec FB updates.

    Great interview, btw!

  14. Spectacular interview, AJ! Well done! I would love it if this became a series of some sort, with skaters from the golden age looking back at their wins and letting us know what they're up to.

  15. Terrific interview, AJ! I wasn't a big Tara fan just because her skating never wowed me (I prefer a woman as opposed to a little girl out there, but that wasn't Tara's fault), but I'm very impressed by her answers here. I really enjoy how she owns geeky moments from her past. We all should!

  16. Thanks for posting this wonderful interview! I did not really follow figure skating back then, and was in the middle of moving states with a 9-month-old baby when the 1998 Olympics happened. You did a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere and history of the moment.

  17. Tara Lipinski is awesome. She is so honest and intelligent.