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Hardly retirement

Stars on Ice's Tara Lipinski a true professional

Source: Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader
Date: April 10, 2002
Author: Rex Rutkoski

Tara Lipinski may not be headed down the road less traveled, but it is a new highway of her career. In fact, as the Olympic gold medalist talks over the cell phone, that literally is true as she drives herself to a rehearsal for "Stars on Ice."

She is one of the top billed in this cast full of figure skating stars.

It is Lipinski's fourth year with the entertainment production. It is the first time without tour founder Scott Hamilton, who retired from the road.

"I love it. I really do. It's like no other show," says Lipinski, now 19. "It gives you a chance to perform for your fans and not have the pressure of competition. Fans get to know you a little better."

While Hamilton will be missed, she says, there is a "fresh and young feel" to the cast, a blend of veteran and younger skaters. That's what Hamilton said he wanted for "Stars On Ice."

It is a bit strange with that skating ambassador gone, Lipinski admits.

"Ever since I've been on tour Scott's been here. He's been such a huge impact on it. I hope to carry through and make him proud," she says. "What I learned from him is how special a tour like this is. It gives you your life and you get back to entertaining."

Tara's education on the ice came rather rapidly.

She is the youngest Olympic, World, National and World Professional Figure Skating champion in history. She began her move up the ranks at 14 when she won the U.S. national and World titles in 1997, and the Champions Series finals in both 1997 and 1998.

In 1998, at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, she surprised the world in becoming the youngest person to win an individual gold medal in any Winter Olympic sport. She was 16.

Then she surprised some people by announcing she was retiring as an amateur.

Lipinski says she has never second guessed her decision.

"For one, it was just my personality. My parents never pushed me," she says.

"I only want to do things that I'm passionate about and love to death to do forever. I felt I really accomplished everything I wanted to and have had a lot of things leading me to that decision."

As an amateur, she already was feeling the results of hip problems. "New injuries would last me another four years. Triple triples (jumps) would be impossible on my body, and the situation I was living in with my parents also was difficult. I knew I was ready to move on and try new things and have more goals to set."

Lipinski says it was not difficult to return to the Winter Olympics this year without skating. She was a spectator and did on-air work for NBC.

"Mentally, it didn't even cross my mind that I wouldn't be skating," she says. "With my hip surgery it would have been physically impossible for me to have done the jumps. So I eliminated that from my mind, and I got to look at what I had done and accomplished. And I'm grateful I'm still able to skate on tour and prolong my career after having the surgery."

The reality of making it to the Olympics in Japan did live up to the dream, she says. "Even before I won I was in heaven just being there. It was beautiful," she says. For Lipinski, winning opened the door to many new opportunities.

"A lot of people think you turn pro for money. They don't realize you can make just as much now as an amateur (through endorsements and other avenues)," she says.

The transition to the professional world was fairly easy for her. "I didn't realize at the beginning though how much I had to learn about entertaining," she says.

Now it's all about skating for the audience, not the judges, every night. "It's fun," she assures.

"Stars On Ice" has such a solid reputation she says because of the quality of the talent and the effort the skaters put into it.

Figure skating remains appealing to many, she says, because of its mix of athleticism and artistry. "More than other sports it gives a chance to see that person's personality," she adds.

Lipinski has kept her plate full since turning pro. In 1999 she won the world professional championships, the youngest person ever to do so.

She anchored the U.S. Team in CBS's "Ice Wars" competition in 1998 and 1999.

She is quite active off the ice, too. Lipinski has a co-starring role in the independent feature "The Metro Chase," a family comedy about an 8-year-old American boy who is separated from his 18-year-old sister as they arrive in Paris.

Lipinski plays "Natalie," an American studying in Paris, who helps the sister find the boy.

She has had many other acting roles, including appearances on CBS's "Touched By an Angel," and a recurring role on the soap opera, "The Young and the Restless."

She has enjoyed star billing in an episode of Nickelodeon's "Are You Afraid of the Dark," co-star billing in the movie "Ice Angel," which aired on the Fox Family Channel, and numerous guest appearances in TV series.

"Another dream is to act and I've put a lot of energy into it in the past year," she says. ' 'Stars on Ice' opened up my eyes to that. It's fun to perform."

Lipinski's NBC special, "Tara Lipinski's Hip-Hop on Ice," aired last November. She was the host and featured performer on CBS' "Top 10 Hits on Ice." Her first primetime special, "Tara Lipinski: From This Moment," aired on CBS in 1999.

She has two books in publication, "Totally Tara: An Olympic Journey," and "Triumph On Ice, An Autobiography."

She also is involved in a number of projects for good causes, including headlining "Tara Lipinski's 'Miracle Match Tour,' a five city tour benefiting children with leukemia. She is featured in Target's "Teachers Make A Difference" campaign, spotlighting the importance of teachers in children's lives.

With Denzel Washington and Shaquille O'Neal she is a national spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. She has worked with the organizations to produce "Stay Safe On Line," a software program that helps youngsters safely traverse the Internet. She maintains her own Web site: www.TaraLipinski.com.

She is also a spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and has spoken at the White House on that subject.

Her position as a major contributor to the Texas Children's Hospital led to her appointment as a member of the prestigious Children's Circle of Care.

She visits young patients in children's hospitals while touring and competing around the country. She recently became affiliated with St. Jude's Research Hospital to support their child-related activities.

"I hope to be remembered for a lot of things," she says. "Being the youngest and showing your age doesn't always have something to do with it. If you pursue your dreams you can reach them.

"Now I hope to bring in a younger generation to see how beautiful skating is, and be remembered as a performer who the audience knows every night I go out there for them, and it means a lot to me. I have a passion to connect with them."

Meet the Stars On Ice:

  • Olympic champions Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt and Ilia Kulik. Witt, who won gold at both the 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics, rejoins "Stars" after a four-year absence.
  • Four-time world champion Kurt Browning.
  • Two-time World Champions Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov, in their "Stars" debut.
  • Three-time U.S. national pair champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.
  • Olympic silver medalist and two-time world professional champion Denis Petrov.
  • Eight-time British national champion Steven Cousins.
  • Two-time Swiss national champion Lucinda Ruh, the "Queen of Spin," in her "Stars" debut.