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Olympics Analysts Lipinski, Weir Deserve Their Own Gold
February 19, 2014  | By Monique Nazareth  | 4 comments
 

As the Sochi Olympics winds down, we have just two days left of ice skating, with the ladies program Wednesday and Thursday.  However, the gold medal performance, in my estimation, already goes to NBCSN’s new skating commentators, Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir...

The dynamic duo have been hosting NBCSN's live coverage of the skating events, while NBC's prime-time coverage has gone instead to Scott Hamilton and Tracy Wilson, among others. NBCSN's live coverage of figure skating goes on for hours -- Wednesday's coverage goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET, and the same for Thursday's gold-medal round -- while the prime time coverage shows much less.

If you watch only at night, you might not realize that twenty couples competed in the finals of ice dance on Monday, rather than just the seven featured on NBC. It makes it all that much more impressive that Lipinski and Weir are on the air for hours, watching every skater from the lowest to the highest rated competitor, and delivering something interesting to say about all of them.

Lipinski and Weir are no strangers to the stress of competing in the Olympics. Lipinski was the gold medalist in women’s skating in the 1998 Nagano games. Weir competed in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, coming in fifth and sixth, respectively, in the men’s program. His short program in 2006 was second only to Russian superstar Evgeni Plushenko, who helped his country win a team gold in Sochi, only to drop out of the competition at the start of the men’s short program. Lipinski retired from competition in 1998, while Weir retired just this past October.

For TV skating commentators, they are relatively young. Lipinski is 31, Weir 29. Their youth and newness to the job probably helps them stay fresh, and avoid the clichés you often hear from the more seasoned skating analysts. What also makes them so fun to listen to is their sparkling chemistry. They are bringing a new energy to the games, and viewers are taking notice of it.

“It’s time for a prime time promotion!”  declares Willa Paskin in Slate

"Figure-skating talk can often be as flat as an ice rink," writes the Wall Street Journal’s Betsy McKay. "Not with these two. Their banter is fun and fresh."

While the UK’s Daily Mail praised "the charismatic duo," saying, "The two have become stars of the Sochi Games in their own right with their bold fashion choices," the accompanying photo showed the two in coordinated pink jackets.

Lipinski and Weir have certainly not held back in the fashion department.  They often glam it up enough to be on the ice themselves, and they’ve had fun commenting on what skaters are wearing. Weir is known for his flamboyant outfits and being outspoken on camera, and some wondered how that would play in Sochi, given Russia’s tough anti-gay laws and policies. Weir is married to a man of Russian-Jewish descent, and speaks the language. But Weir told NBC's Today show, "I haven’t come to Russia to make a statement in any way. I’ve come to Russia to do my job and to do it well."

And it’s a job well done indeed.

TV critic Robert Bianco of USA Today explained it best: "Relaxed and amusing together, Weir and Lipinski are a joy to hear, in part because they don't continually make us listen. They're willing to let long stretches of performances go by without comment, and when they do chime in, their remarks are technical enough to be explanatory without being obtuse. Best of all, while they understand the pressure the competitors face, they still expect them to perform and are not afraid to be critical when they don't."

Breaking down a particular element comes easily to Lipinski and Weir. Describing why a skater failed to land a quadruple jump in the men’s program, Weir noted, "He broke out of the revolution too soon. For a quad, you need to hold until you feel your foot hit the ice."

After Canadian skater Patrick Chan’s free skate performance, Lipinski remarked, "It was a safe skate, and usually you can’t win an Olympic gold medal skating safe.  But it’s an interesting situation because Yuzuru [Hanyu] did the same thing."

The prime time commentators haven’t been nearly as precise or engaging.  During NBCSN's daytime coverage Monday, after the Russian ice dance team of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov finished their performance of Swan Lake, Lipinski praised it, pointing out that while many have skated to that theme before, this was the one to watch.  She went on to describe all the elements that made it so exceptional.  On NBC later that night, by comparison, prime-time commentator Tracy Wilson pointed out that Ilinykh mouthed spasibo, Russian for thank you. Tom Hammond mentioned how the crowd of Russians loved them. She repeated spasibo. It came off as banter for the sake of banter. 

NBC is taking notice of all the attention and praise heaped upon their young new sports analysts. NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell told The Wall Street Journal, "I can't recall rookie announcers ever making this kind of immediate impact on such a big stage."

As for the future, Weir hopes to do much more.  As he told USA Today: "I am open to covering everything at the Olympics. I will do golf. I will do the Summer Olympics…I will do whatever NBC asks me because I just love it."

Let’s hope NBC takes him, and his on-air partner Lipinski, up on it.

 
 
 
 
 
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4 Comments
 
 
Jay
I fully agree, but couldn't have said it so well.
Mar 17, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
Erin
Loved Tara and Johnny. As someone who has never ice skating, they were so helpful in understanding why one person might score high than another, even if I thought that the lower-scored performer had a better skate. They were information rich, as opposed to the prime time crew that was too often information depleted.
Feb 24, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
KM
They are so happy to be at the Olympics and are embracing the experiance. To fully enjuy the fun you must check out their instagram accounts. http://instagram.com/taraandjohnny http://instagram.com/taralipinski http://instagram.com/johnnygweir/

they are so much better then the prime time coverage. Peggy Flemming was especially abysmal this year.

Also Terry Gannon deserves a shout out. He was a little taken aback by the pair on day one. But he has realized it is all in good fun, and his lack of knowledge about skating has caused him to ask very good questions, adding to the usefulness of the coverage. Easily the best coverage of any even during this game. None of that awful sob story stuff.
Feb 20, 2014   |  Reply
 
Erin
To be fair to Peggy Fleming, she didn't do any of the prime-time coverage. In fact, I don't think she works for NBC. I think your beef might be with Tracey Wilson.
Feb 24, 2014
 
 
Monique Nazareth
I completely agree. Terry Gannon seemed to be really having fun too. He was very gracious when they "stepped on him," gave them the chance to do the reintroductions after a break instead of him, and even gave them a sincere thanks at the end of the ladies free skate for their time together. It was a great team!
Feb 21, 2014
 
 
 
kirk dickinson
my wife and I have thoroughly enjoyed Jonny and Tara, they made the skating entertaining without being over the top or trite, I sincerely hope that you employ them for the summer Olympics.
Feb 19, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
 
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