After the short program at the 1998 U.S. Championships in Philadelphia, Tara Lipinski was in fourth place, facing the possibility that she would not make the 1998 U.S. Olympic team because of an uncharacteristic fall on her triple flip.
“I remember that after my short program at nationals, there was a moment of panic in my head when I realized that I was in fourth place,” Lipinski said.”I remembered thinking ‘As of right now, I am not on the Olympic team. I am not going to the Olympics.'”
It is likely a feeling that two-time U.S. Championship silver medalist Rachael Flatt and 2009 Grand Prix Final competitor Ashley Wagner, who is mentored by Lipinski, have had since their short programs on Thursday at the 2010 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash. Flatt is third and Wagner, who fell on the triple Lutz, is fourth.
Unlike 1998 when three skaters would advance from nationals to the Olympic Winter Games, only two American ladies will compete at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada. U.S. Figure Skating’s International Committee will make the selection following the ladies free skate Saturday night.
“I think what helped me was remembering the journey,” Lipinski said. “I was nervous because I was competing for what I had been dreaming of for my whole life. But I had to remember everything that I had done to get to that moment. I had to remember everything I had done well before that short program.”
After winning the 1997 U.S. Championship, Lipinski won the World Championship.
“It is important for these ladies to forget the critics,” Lipinski said. “I heard so many things being said about me throughout my career but I forgot about them. I always tried to remind myself that I was skating because it’s what I loved to do. The skaters who are going to make it genuinely love to skate.”
Lipinski said that when she took the ice for the free skate at the 1998 nationals, she thought about her passion for the sport instead of what was at stake. “I wasn’t thinking to myself ‘I have to win this’ but I was thinking that I was going to enjoy being out there no matter what came from it,” she said.
She finished second at the 1998 U.S. Championships with a free skate that included seven triple jumps. In Nagano, Lipinski rallied from second in the short program to win the gold medal. She is the youngest Olympic Champion in history.
Before the competition started in Spokane, Lipinski offered her thoughts on the ladies competition, including her mentoree’s prospects.
“I think for one of those two spots, Ashley is a very strong possibility if she skates well,” Lipinski said. “But she has to compete with girls like Rachael, Mirai and of course the reigning U.S. Champion Alissa Czinsy. Any of them could make the Olympic team. It’s so hard because there are so many talented ladies. You don’t have the Tara, Michelle or Sasha, Michelle hold on the competition like there used to be. You can’t predict what will happen.”
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