Winter Olympics: Rivalry on Ice, the dream show

Remember Kerrigan v Harding? Mike Rowbottom samples the new soap, Lipinski v Kwan

THE CBS satellite dish parked in the grounds of the ancient Zenkoji temple, in Nagano, testifies to the commercial power of the XVIII Winter Olympics. The American TV network paid $375m for the exclusive rights to show the Games Stateside - and they were happy to do so after the soaring ratings generated by the 1994 Lillehammer Games.

An estimated 120 million viewers - still the largest American TV audience behind three Super Bowl figures - tuned in to watch the dramatic ice skating confrontation between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, who was later implicated in a pre-Games attack on her rival.

The details of that tangled intrigue were brought back into public view through Friday's US screening of the first face-to-face interview between the two skaters. Thankfully, no iron bars have been aimed at athletes' knees in the lead-up to this year's figure skating programme. But the American media are massing once again for another huge story of Rivalry on Ice - this time involving two young US skaters who have both been world champions, 17-year-old Michelle Kwan, and 15-year-old Tara Lipinski.

When Kwan secured the world title in 1996, aged 15, many skating observers marked her down as the next Olympic champion. But the following year a 4ft 9in 14-year-old from Detroit arrived on the scene and jubilantly complicated the whole issue by relieving Kwan of both her national and world titles, becoming the youngest ever champion.

Lipinski's startling success stemmed partly from Kwan's sudden collapse in form and partly from her own acrobatic - some said robotic - ability. With seven triple jumps, Lipinski has the most technically demanding routine in the world. But there was a critical backlash, as fears were voiced that ice skating was in danger of going down the route gymnastics had followed towards domination by super-tots. "About a second after they crowned her," one experienced American observer said, "the judges wanted to take it back."

The scene was set perfectly for the Olympic season. And last month in Philadelphia Kwan regained the initiative by recovering her US title from Lipinski with a sublimely graceful performance which earned her a maximum 6.0 for artistic merit in 15 out of 18 marks. Lipinski, meanwhile, tumbled out of contention with a rare fall while attempting a triple flip.

Kwan's performance had the skating establishment swooning. "It will be remembered forever," said Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion. Kwan herself was suitably inspired verbally. "I don't see myself winning," she said afterwards. "I see myself flying."

So now America - and the sporting world - has its dramatic conflict. Kwan, dark and graceful, a Lyudmila Tourischeva to Lipinski's blonde and peppy Olga Korbut. The rivalry has been discussed in depth on David Letterman's TV show. "We both represent the same country," Kwan said. "We're both world champions. Why not build it all up?"

Competition has extended to the bookshelves, where their ghost-written autobiographies appeared almost simultaneously. The titles scored poor marks for either originality or artistry - Kwan's was "Heart of a Champion", Lipinski's was "Triumph on Ice". While Kwan basked in adoration after the national championships, there was a feeling in the Lipinski camp that their girl was not being treated fairly; the judges appeared to be scrutinising her jumping technique more rigorously.

Here on Friday, Lipinski appeared determined to mount a charm offensive as she appeared with the bulk of the US figure skating team. Kwan and the third selected women's singles skater Nicole Bobek had delayed their arrival in Nagano as their competition starts on Wednesday week. But from the moment Lipinski smilingly twisted the microphone standing between herself and the US men's champion Todd Eldredge in her own direction, it was clear that she was eager to make the most of her media opportunity.

Her responses to a series of questions were remorselessly positive, again with low marks for originality or artistic impression. Her first impression of Nagano? It was awesome, and the people were wonderful. Her first practice session? It was just great, the legs felt good and the fact of being at the Olympics for the first time kept her pumped.

But the 15-year-old dealt deftly with an invitation to criticise Kwan for missing the opening ceremony. "Everyone has different schedules. For me I felt it was good to come here and enjoy the occasion because it would help me to relax, and I always skate better when I am relaxed."

Lipinski conceded that she arrived at the Games as the underdog. But she appeared happy with the position. "I like being the underdog," she said. "It gives me a lot more to think about." Did she accept that she would have to skate the performance of her life to beat Kwan after the latter's performance in Philadelphia? "I hope I do," she replied. "But I going out there to do a normal programme, not to try and be my best ever performance. After that, what happens, happens."

If Lipinski can show the same assurance on ice as she displays off it, what happens might well turn out to be the keynote contest of the XVIII Winter Games.

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015