20 Feb 1998
The favourite for the women’s individual figure skating title was Michelle Kwan of the USA, who was just 17. As it turned out, her main challenger for the gold medal was even younger: her 15-year-old team-mate Tara Lipinski.
Lipinski had been figure skating since she was six years old and quickly showed prodigious talent. At the age of 12, she finished fourth at the world junior championships and two years later she qualified for the American team for the senior world championships.
From then on, her path to the top was assured, as was her rivalry with Kwan, who was already both a national and world champion. But in 1997, when Kwan was not at her best, Lipinski claimed both of those titles for herself. During the run-up to the Nagano Games, it appeared as if the balance of power might have shifted back to Kwan, who won several head-to-head battles with Lipinski in the United States, including the Olympic trials.
In Nagano, Kwan won the short programme, with Lipinski ranking second, but the margin was narrow enough to leave everything to play for in the long programme.
Kwan skated first, and skated well. She landed seven triples and scored strongly. It wasn't a perfect routine, but it was the sort of performance that looked good enough for gold. Lipinski would need something very special to challenge her.
The 15-year-old matched all the elements of Kwan's routine, but added two combinations that were considered even more difficult. The judges ended up by giving Kwan a slight artistic advantage, but marked Lipinski as the clear technical winner, by a margin big enough to give her the overall victory.