Tara Lipinski reflects on 1998 Nagano Olympic victory 20 years later

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NBCOlympics.com caught up with 1998 Olympic figure skating champion Tara Lipinski to ask her to reflect on her memories from Nagano.

Do you think it would be harder to do what you did in 1998 if it was during the social media age?

There are so many eyes on you. Not just when you’re watching a televised event. Even now, [commentating partner and two-time Olympian] Johnny [Weir] and I can look online, and there’s a competition that happened two seconds ago and it’s already up on YouTube. And hardcore skating fans are already critiquing it. Living in the world of social media, there’s pros and cons to it, I think. There would’ve been a lot of fun, exciting moments for me as a 15-year-old to be connected with so many different people all across the world, instantaneously. To create those relationships and build... I mean nowadays, you have people building careers off of that.

You just don’t know what level that would’ve taken the skaters in the ‘90s to if that had this whole other platform to work with. The one thing I’m glad I did miss is the negativity that sometimes comes with social media. People voicing their opinion and hiding behind a computer screen or behind their iPhone, and not [knowing] how that could affect someone on the other side. Especially, if I’m looking back specifically towards my own career, I was so young. I’m sort of glad I didn’t have to deal with any of that negativity. At the same time it would’ve be really fun to be swept up in that world and have that access to so many different people and have a different relationship with my fans.

When you’re thinking about the long history of figure skating, is it weird to think back that ‘94 and ‘98 were back to back Olympics? They feel so different when people look back.

It really is. Obviously, in ‘94, so much happened in the sport with the Tonya [Harding] and Nancy [Kerrigan] incident. Then from there the sport sort of exploded in popularity and everyone seemed to be glued to their television sets. I think general public just wanted to consume more and more figure skating, which was incredible for the ‘98 Games. There was sort of a new crop of skaters. The ‘94 athletes, most of them retired, the ones that people knew from the U.S. Then it was time for a new crop, and that’s when sort of Michelle Kwan, Nicole Bobek, and I were there.

It was really something special for me looking back, to have those Olympic Games and to have a competitor and a rival like I did in Michelle Kwan. To have two U.S. skaters competing for gold and competing for that podium at an Olympic Games is so exciting. And looking back now, when you watch, if you were to go back and watch the podium ceremony, to see two American flags being raised, is pretty special.

Do you think that a lot of the rivalry between you and Michelle was hyped up? How much of that was real?

It was real – we came first and second. It definitely was a competition within a competition for every competition for Michelle and I. I think the media, like we said at that time in the ‘90s was, with the height of popularity for figure skating, at its best. The media was definitely involved in making a story and to sort of create this rivalry for Michelle and I. It was there, but I think it was sort of, probably a little exaggerated to the point that Michelle and I put our blinders on. “We hear all you guys,” and “you all have your opinions,” and “we get it.” There is competition between the two of us. It probably – you would have to ask her – but to me, it seemed like people really got into that story.

Do you think your Anastasia short program would have been a lot different if it had lyrics, now that that’s new for this 2018 Olympics?

It’s funny to think about that. When lyrics became legal in figure skating, I thought it was one of the greatest steps forward and I was so excited to start seeing these skaters skate to music with lyrics. I sort of now step back and think, I kind of like the classical form of it and music that doesn’t have lyrics. So I had an exhibition that I skated to at the Olympics with Anastasia with the lyrics. I look back now and I don’t know if I would’ve chosen that for the actual competition. It felt to me at the time a little more grand without the lyrics.