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Too, Too Amazing

Source: The Oregonian
Date: January 4, 2002
Author: Ted Mahar

Copyright 2002 The Oregonian

Tara Lipinski's tutu!

"Stars on Ice" really will deliver the stars tonight at the Rose Garden.

The headliners are four-time world champion Kurt Browning and four Olympic champions: Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt, Ilia Kulik and Tara Lipinski -- in tutu or other attire.

Others flashing the blades will be two-time Swiss national champion and "Queen of Spin" Lucinda Ruh, Olympic silver medalist Denis Petrov, eight-time British national champion Steven Cousins, two-time world pairs champions Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov, and three-time U.S. pairs champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.

As for that exclamation of amazement, it has been familiar to listeners of Ray and Tom Magliozzi, hosts of "Car Talk" on National Public Radio. For years, one or the other would cry "Sonja Henie's tutu!" on hearing something amazing.

However, when Lipinski became the youngest Olympic gold medal skater at age 16 in 1998, Ray and Tom officially retired Sonja's tutu and substituted Tara's. As if that weren't enough, Lipinski is also the youngest national and world professional figure skating champion ever.

But -- Tara Lipinski's tutu! -- Lipinski still had never heard of Ray and Tom's admiring evocation of her name and costume.

"Well, gee, it's kind of funny, I guess," Lipinski said by phone. "I guess it's an honor. I'll have to try to listen some time."

She has perhaps been too busy skating in shows like "Target Stars on Ice Presented by ThermaSilk" while also pursuing an acting career. She co-stars in an upcoming film, "The Metro Chase," has played a continuing character on "The Young and the Restless" and starred in two CBS-TV specials built around her. She has also joined other stars who devote time to hospital visits to children, being a major contributor to the Texas Children's Hospital.

But she says that work is fun.

"If I'm not having fun, it takes away from the show," Lipinski said. "In a show like this you can actually do more than you can in competition. In competition you have to please a few judges and try not to think about the audience. In this show, it's all about the audience. But you also get to cut loose and express yourself. You build on the things you do in competition to create routines that excite you and the audience."

She also remembers kids who might have been like her 10 years ago.

"When I was little, I loved shows like this," Lipinski said. "If I could thrill kids the way I was thrilled, it would be the greatest satisfaction there is."

Browning, 35, is decidedly a veteran skater, having glided across the ice for most of two decades. Just last month on a televised skating competition, Scott Hamilton -- a founder of "Stars on Ice" and its headliner through last year -- called Browning "the best entertainer on ice."

"When you work so hard at technical athletic perfection, it's hard to think of yourself as an entertainer, but obviously we are, or people wouldn't pay to see us," Browning said by phone. "It has to be true even in the big competitions. You're skating as carefully as possible, and the judges are zeroing in on every movement of your whole body, but the thousands of spectators in the stands are watching a show."

Headliner though he is, Browning takes special care to praise his co-stars one by one. The one who merits a sigh of admiration is Ruh.

"The rest of us skaters just stand in something like disbelief when she does her spins," Browning said. "Some of the truly best skating talent in the world is out there on the ice, but everyone is in awe of what she does. The show opens in dead blackness, and then a spotlight flashes on, and you see her spinning so rapidly that it doesn't look humanly possible."

Browning stresses the obvious fact -- this is a show of world-class athletes showing artistic and athletic skills. There are no furry animals or fantasy characters in costume.

"Kids love the show, and the biggest kick in the world is to see the glint in their eyes when you skate close to them," he said. "But they're not watching fantasy. They're watching the real thing."