Ice Scating: Lipinski to turn professional two decks

THE American figure skater Tara Lipinski, at 15 the youngest individual Olympic gold medalist the sport has known, has announced that she is leaving amateur competition for the professional ranks.

In a television interview she said: "It's for one major reason, I think. I really miss being home with my dad, and I realized after Nagano how important it is to me to be with my mom and dad and be all together."

For the last three years Lipinski lived with her mother in Michigan in order to train with Detroit Skating Club coach Richard Callaghan while her father remained at the family home in Sugar Land, Texas.

Lipinski, the youngest-ever US national, world and Olympic women's champion will be the youngest pro skater on the circuit. She becomes 16 on June 10.

She is expected to make her pro debut on 24 April in Charleston, South Carolina. Lipinski then will not be eligible for events such as the the World Championships and Olympic Games which, for skaters, now only accept amateurs after a brief flirtation with professionals, who were allowed into the Lillehammer Games in 1994.

After winning the Olympic gold medal in Nagano in February, the 1997 US and world champion pulled out of last week's World Championships in Minneapolis, leaving the stage vacant for her rival Michelle Kwan.