By Gary Mihoces
SOCHI, Russia – What do Tara and Johnny think?
Eminent U.S. figure skating coach Frank Carroll has described 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia as a very talented “little girl.” He’s summed up his own pupil, 18-year-old Gracie Gold of the USA, as someone who skates like a “young lady, not like a youngster, not like a kid.’’
Hours before the women’s short program in Olympic figure skating Wednesday night, USA TODAY Sports bounced that “little girl” appraisal off Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, paired as NBC analysts here in Sochi.
“Well, you’re asking the 15-year-old that won, ” Lipinski said with a big laugh. She earned her Olympic gold in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 at 15.
“Yes, she’s younger than everyone … but obviously everyone’s learning curve is different, and she’s on that fast track. … For her age, she’s appropriately skating up to a more advanced level of someone with the maturity of a 19-year-old.”
Yuna Kim of South Korea, in the field here, was 19 when she won Olympic gold in Vancouver in 2010.
“And she (Lipnitskaia) is extremely well packaged, where she’s very comfortable with her skills and her programming and her costuming, ” said Weir.
“She doesn’t look uncomfortable or like she’s trying too hard. That can be a problem with young talent at times. And there’s a freshness and a vibrancy to Julia’s skating that makes her very exciting to watch, and you get the feeling that she’s very mature beyond her years.’’
Polina Edmunds of the USA also is 15.
“You look at Polina and then you look Julia. They’re both 15 but they’re in a litte bit different…” said Lipinski.
“Different points in their careers, ” said Weir, finishing the sentence.
So who are they picking to win?
“I think it’s kind of hard to kind of guess who’s gonna show up tonight, ” said Lipinski. “But there are probably about six people that can get on the podium. But I think the top spot is between Yuna, Mao Asada (of Japan) and Julia.’’
Weir: “I agree with that.”
The website of the Today show has a story about the luggage Weir and Lipinski brought here to roll out their TV wardrobes: 8 suitcases, 22 pairs of shoes, 20 pounds of shoes, four fur coats (Weir’s) and more.
So who packs up their bags to go home?
“We do, ” said Lipinski.
Said Weir: “We’ll get in pajamas, we’ll have a glass of wine to celebrate the end of Olympics and we’ll pack to go home.”
They’ll leave with more than they brought. “We’re bringing back a lot of souvenirs for friends and family at home, but I think we might have enough room, ” said Lipinski.
They’ll also go home with basically rave reviews.
“We’re absolutely on Cloud Nine, ’’ said Weir. “We’re so excited first of all to explain our sport and create these pictures of skaters …. from the first to last skater … and the public in the U.S.’s reaction has just been so overwhelmingly positive and lovely that it adds this whole other dimension to our job.’’
Weir was a two-time Olympian, three-time U.S. champion and a bronze medalist at the 2008 worlds. He mulled a try at the Sochi Olympics but retired from skating last fall.
He was underwhelmed by the men’s final here.
“When I was watching the men’s event the other night and nobody was skating as if they wanted to win the gold medal, I wanted to jump out of the booth, ” said Weir.