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L.A. Happenings: Golden girls on ice

Source: Ventura County Star
Date: January 18, 2002

Olympic champions Katarina Witt and Tara Lipinski are a contrast in style and appearance.

Witt, a steely-cool and graceful German brunette, dominated women's skating in the 1980s. She took gold in 1984 and 1988 and was the overwhelming sentimental favorite at the '94 Winter Games.

Lipinski, the bubbly American blonde with the wry smile, is known for her jumps and her playfully rebellious attitude. She surprised the skating world with Olympic gold in 1998 at the age of 16, making her the youngest winner in history.

Witt and Lipinski are the chronological bookends to the current "Stars on Ice" tour, which also features Olympic winners Kristi Yamaguchi and Ilia Kulik, along with several other world champions.

"Stars on Ice," which comes to Anaheim on Saturday and to Los Angeles on Sunday, was founded in 1986 by Scott Hamilton. It is considered the premier skating show because of the caliber of the professional skaters it features.

Never competitors because of their age difference (Witt is 36, Lipinski is 19), both women say the move from competitive skating to exposition was relatively easy.

"I'm skating with some of my idols," said Lipinski, seated on a couch in a North Hollywood hotel lobby, a few feet away from Witt. "To me, competing wasn't about wanting to beat everybody. It was wanting to skate a clean program. I get that same feeling now -- maybe not to as high a degree as the Olympics -- but every time I step on the ice, I have that excited energy to go out there and do my best."

"I did the competitions to win," said Witt, smiling. "That was why I started and why I stayed in it for so long. Now, it's a different kind of pressure, but it helps to still have an athlete's heart. Sometimes you don't feel up because you are injured or tired, but you can't give up."

It was that attitude that helped Witt earn fans during the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. There she skated to the song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" in tribute to Sarajevo, the city where she had won gold in 1984 and which soon after was ravaged by war.

Unlike the serious skater of years past, Witt displayed an easygoing manner throughout the '94 games. She also presented the competition's most emotionally beautiful program.

"I went because of the spirit of the Olympics, and I wanted to prove that at 28 I could still be part of the best, even though I had no chance for a medal," Witt said. "I used the stage to make a statement with the art of skating for what I felt in my heart, which was about the city where I had won 10 years before and then seeing that city being torn apart and destroyed.

"It was the biggest compliment for me that people forgot where I placed," added Witt, who finished in seventh. "It touched a lot of people's hearts."

Lipinski's most vivid memory of that event was, "seeing Oksana (Baiul) and Nancy (Kerrigan), because at that point I was starting to move up the ranks in the junior level," she said. "For me, 1998 was so close, but still so far away."

Soon after taking gold, Lipinski turned pro, a decision that irked many skating fans but one the skater doesn't regret.

"For years, I trained very hard, skating seven hours a day, doing triple loop, triple loop until I was so tired, but that was what helped me win," said Lipinski, who underwent hip surgery last year.

"Stars on Ice" this year offers a behind-the-scenes look at the skating world, and what is required of its athletes. The show weaves individual routines into a cohesive story choreographed by former Olympic pairs champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.

Since turning professional, both Lipinski and Witt have moved beyond the skating world.

Witt created and runs skating shows in Europe and has her own line of jewelry.

She also agreed to appear in Playboy, after years of being asked. She chose the photographer, the location and which photos were used.

Lipinski has turned to acting, first playing herself and now taking on roles in small films and TV shows.

"Stars on Ice" will keep both skaters busy through spring.

"That's OK because the show is really fun, and it's incredible when we play to packed houses," Lipinski said.

"We're not tired yet," added Witt, "but it's still the beginning of the tour. Ask us in a few months."

"Stars on Ice" has performances at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Arrowhead Pond, 2695 East Katella Ave., Anaheim, and at 5 p.m. Sunday at Staples Center, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Los Angeles.

Tickets, $36 to $62, may be purchased through Ticketmaster, 583-8700, or www.ticketmaster.com.