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Why Lipinski, Not Kwan, Is Analyzing Olympic Skating

February 19th, 2018 · No Comments · Journalism, Olympics, Sports Journalism

Turns out, Tara Lipinski is a fine broadcast analyst at Olympic skating competition.

But we might be looking at Michelle Kwan on NBC TV, instead of Lipinski, if the former had won an Olympics gold at some point in her long and productive career. As Lipinski did at Nagano 1998.

Lipinski had a much shorter career, than did Kwan, and turned pro a month after Nagano, while Kwan carried on until 2009, always mulling a path to a gold medal.

Kwan was third at Salt Lake 2002, and that was it for her and the Olympics. She gained a spot on the U.S. team ahead of Turin 2006 but she withdrew from the competition when it became clear she would not be at full strength.

Which does nothing to detract from her seven national championships and five world championship. But the Olympics are, by far the Big Event, in skating.

I broke down Kwan’s two shots at gold on this blog item back in 2009, when she retired from the sport. And the margin of defeat, twice, was paper thin.

Winning Olympic gold immediately puts an athlete at another level in the minds of fans. Fans tend to remember the Olympics gold-medalists — and so do skaters.

If Kwan had finished a point ahead of Lipinksi, in 1998, we probably would be looking at her sitting next to Johnny Weir, night after night, at Pyeongchang. (Assuming Kwan would like to be there.)

Lipinski has recapped her 1998 victory over Kwan in the New York Times, and she makes it clear she won thanks to a more-demanding technical program.

As I noted in 2009, Kwan was caught between eras, at Nagano. She had been coached by Frank Carroll to take full advantage of her sublime artistry, but the judges in Japan were a bit more impressed by Lipinski’s triples and doubles — which have taken over the sport since that night when Lipinski, 15, was what Kwan, 17 used to call “a jumping bean”.

I was in the media seating for both Nagano and Salt Lake, and I honestly thought Kwan had won, in 1998. But I also was taking into account the sport’s previous history of giving the reigning world champion a bit of an edge in tight matchups with skaters whose resume was not as impressive — skaters who had not done as much for the sport.

That did not happen, in Nagano, and I believe the judges (six of the nine) had to give the gold to Lipinski, who did more spectacular jumps.

So, here we are 20 years later, and whenever Lipinski’s face pops up on TV I think of Michelle Kwan.

TV punditry is not the be-all and end-all of the sport, but it weighs heavily among fans. … and landing one more triple might have given Kwan the option of a lot of TV face time.


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