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Tara Lipinski on the world championships, being in the zone

March 26, 2009 | 12:30 pm

Editor's note: All week Ticket to Vancouver is featuring posts from some past skating world champions. On Tuesday and again on Wednesday it was Kimmie Meissner. Today, former national and world champion and Olympic gold medalist Tara Lipinski takes a turn.

Tara Lipinski There is nothing better than competing at the world championships -- well, OK, maybe the Olympics!

The Olympics hold the most life-changing, proudest, emotional, amazing memories and moments in my entire life, but the world championships paved the way for that to happen.

There are moments that have impacted my life forever, and the world championships is one of them.  I don’t think I could ever forget those feelings.

My first world championships was in Edmonton, Canada. My second took place in Lausanne, Switzerland, and I was national champion. I was only 14 but I never felt 14. Although all the girls were older than me, I walked into that arena with my skate bag dragging behind me, my head held high and proud to be representing the United States. I was ready to show everyone what I was made of. I love to compete but that’s not to say I was never anxious or felt nerves because boy did I -- everyday.

That’s the great thing about competition. You put on your game face, find a way to conquer the

nerves and do what you trained for months to do. Most importantly, you have to love what you do because otherwise it will be hard to do your best under pressure.

The week before competition was always exciting for me. I enjoyed going to the practices.  I would have such a rush of adrenaline to get out there and skate. Afterward, I would get off the ice with a great feeling, and I couldn’t wait to get back out there and do it again the next day.

Arriving at an international competition was simply fun. One of the best parts was representing the United States and wearing Team USA attire.  It was an honor walking into an arena with my team jacket on. I always felt so proud to be an American.  Also, you get to see friends (somehow, I always found time for my social life) and the routine is much easier than your everyday training schedule.

Tara Lipinski hugs coach Richard Callaghan after becoming world champion in 1997. Coming in as national champion, I wanted to skate two clean programs. At the venue, I really enjoyed the excitement, the media and meeting all the other skaters. When it came time for the event, I loved the intensity of it all.

My mom and I would have pasta at the hotel before I took the bus to the arena. This was our tradition.  I would eat, put on my makeup and talk with my mom. Then, it would be time for me to go, but always, ALWAYS, right before I left my parents, I would get a surge of confidence. I would turn around and say with a fire in my eyes, something to the effect of, "I will do it, I feel good." Truthfully, a few minutes later the nerves might start creeping back in.

The five-minute warm-ups? I never wanted them to end since the ice was such a comfortable place for me. I remember the moment I would step onto the ice when they announced my name (always with my right foot since I am very superstitious).

As I looked out into the packed audience, a little part of me would think, "Would anyone notice if I got off the ice right now?"  More importantly, I remember saying to myself, "I’m going to do this tonight." 

Mentally I always tried to find "that zone" where I could just see one thing, a clean program. When my music started, there was that certain fire that ignited inside of me and I knew it was time to compete.

I skated the very best I could that night in Lausanne, and I couldn’t have been happier. All I wanted was to skate a clean program and do the best I could.  It came together for me.  I enjoyed every moment on the ice.  I almost couldn’t contain all the happiness I was feeling because it felt so right.

Pressure, nerves and anxiety turned into relief and joy. As in every competition, I never cared about the marks because I was out to do my personal best. 

That said, when you are rewarded with great marks and hear you have just won the world championships it is the best feeling you can ever ask for.

Some world championships have more significance than others. The one leading up to the Olympics may be special. Since 1908, 22 Olympic gold medals have been awarded in the ladies event and 16 of those went to the reigning world champion. Maybe statistics do not matter, but it seems like the winner this year will have an edge on the gold in Vancouver. Good luck and go get 'em!

Skating is magical. Skating is my life and always will be. Skating has been very good to me. My dreams were fulfilled through skating. I hope all the skaters that are here at the world championships will enjoy it as much as I did and may their dreams come true.

I wish all of you the best.

Go Team USA!

-- Tara Lipinski
1997 world champion

Top photo: Tara Lipinski. Credit: Tara Lipinski
Bottom photo: Tara Lipinski hugs Coach Richard Callaghan after becoming world champion in 1997. Credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters