Lipinski Undecided for 2002; Kwan Undeterred
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 1998; Page D8
NAGANO, Feb. 21 Though she is only 15, Tara Lipinski, the newly crowned Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, isn't promising to stick around for another try at the gold in the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Lipinski isn't even sure whether she will attend next month's world championships in Minneapolis.
Lipinski, still glowing from her upset victory over Michelle Kwan on Friday night, said today she is more concerned with enjoying her gold medal moment she became the youngest Winter Olympic gold medalist in history than rushing to plan her future.
"I really haven't thought," she said. "I really don't even want to think of that. ... You're still in shock a little bit. There are so many things I don't even realize yet."
Said her agent, Mike Burg: "There really are no plans for her. It's whatever Tara wants to do, whether it's Disneyland or an African safari."
Kwan, on the other hand, said today she was determined to renew her quest for an Olympic gold medal, which she lost to Lipinski in one of the most exciting women's singles competitions in recent memory. Kwan, 17, entered the night in first place after the short program. She skated a nearly perfect long program, but was topped by Lipinski's technically superior and flawlessly executed program.
Kwan said her coach, Frank Carroll, offered her a little history lesson afterward, reminding her that American Carol Heiss finished second behind countrywoman Tenley Albright in the 1956 Olympics before winning the gold in 1960.
"I was never a person who has quit," Kwan said. "I'll be 21 in 2002. I talked to Frank about it and he really thinks I can do it.
"Who knows what can happen in four years, but I'm going try to be there. ... I have a lot of improving to do. How am I going to get that gold medal? I'm asking myself how I can improve."
By winning a gold in her first Olympics, Lipinski ensured herself a consistent stream of commercial opportunities over at least the next four years. Figure skating agent Michael Rosenberg estimated that Lipinski could make $10 million to $12 million over the next four years from endorsements and other deals. Already, Lipinski has endorsement contracts with companies including Campbell's Soup, Mattel, Chevrolet, DKNY and Minute Maid.
"It's all so new," Burg said. "She's the youngest champion in Olympic history. There's no basis for comparison. It's a brand new world and it's really difficult to make decisions right now."
Lipinski gained fame last year when she became the youngest world champion at age 14. Within months, her autobiography had been written and published.
Since winning the gold, Lipinski has filmed a segment of "Late Night with David Letterman" and taken congratulatory phone calls from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and John Engler, the governor of Michigan, the state in which Lipinski trains. She also has been approached about being a Grammy award presenter, Burg said.
"She's a very likeable young lady-teenager-kid-young person," Burg said. "Companies like that kind of person. What you saw with Tara is what you got. I think she's one of the most marketable female athletes in the world right now."
Lipinski could remain in skating by turning professional, going on tour and skating in exhibitions. According to Burg, turning pro would reduce Lipinski's considerable training burden. Lipinski and her mother, Pat, moved to Detroit to train while her father, Jack, remained in Sugar Land, Tex. Instead of attending school, Lipinski is taught by several private tutors.
What lies ahead for Lipinski depends on how she wants to spend the remainder of her teenage years.
"I think more than anything else it's a lifestyle decision," Burg said. "Each four years you see a new push. ... You have to train really hard. Do you want to have that lifestyle or a performer-entertainer lifestyle?"
Burg also indicated that Lipinski's family intends to prevent her from tripping over the same post-Olympic obstacles that felled 1994 Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul. Baiul, who was 16 when she won her Olympic medal, enjoyed the fruits of her success in excess. About a year ago, Baiul was cited for drunken driving after she crashed her car at a high rate of speed in Connecticut.
Should Lipinski decide to retire from competitive skating, she likely would be joined by fellow Americans Todd Eldredge and pairs skaters Todd Sand and Jenni Meno. Bronze medalists Lu Chen of China and Philippe Candeloro of France also are expected to turn pro.
Those on course to return for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City include men's gold medalist Ilia Kulik, 20, and Michael Weiss of Fairfax, 21, who finished seventh in these Games. The American pair of Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, who finished fourth here, might be back as well.
And, of course, Kwan intends to return. Much like on Friday, when Kwan smiled graciously through the medal ceremony and post-performance news conference, she offered a positive spin today on a disappointing defeat for her.
"I had three wishes to make the Olympic team, to skate very good in the short program and the long program, and the third one was win the Olympic gold medal," Kwan said. "Two wishes came true, but I don't think that's too bad."
Lipinski remained in happy shock about her unexpected victory.
"I went to bed thinking about it and woke up and thought, 'Wow, it really happened,' " Lipinski said. "It's so unbelievable."
Staff writer Wendy E. Lane contributed to this report.
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