Ice Network

Broadcast dream team reunites at Skate America

Weir, Lipinski set to build on unprecedented popularity of Olympic telecasts
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Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir will provide commentary at Skate America. -Getty Images

Forgive Johnny Weir if he is not traveling light to Skate America, a three-day event taking place outside of Chicago from Oct. 24-26.

He is coming to the Windy City via Moscow and New York and has three giant suitcases, a carry-on bag and a purse.

Living out of a suitcase, or in this case, suitcases, has a whole new meaning when you're Johnny Weir.

It's a lot, he admitted, but he and Tara Lipinski "raised the game" after their fashion-conscious broadcasts in Sochi, and they will need to continue bringing their A-game style to NBC now that they have been named to the lead figure skating broadcast team.

In addition to play-by-play announcer Terry Gannon, who noted he is traveling only with the carry on, Lipinski and Weir will be NBC's top team for the sport through the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. Lipinski, Weir and Gannon will be joined at Skate America by analyst Tracy Wilson and reporter Andrea Joyce.

But they are all living in Lipinski and Weir's world.

"It's a very surreal moment," said Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion. "I don't think we really expected this to happen when we were in Sochi."

Weir, a three-time U.S. champion, said his main goal in Sochi was to "reinvigorate the public" about figure skating. Fan reaction to their broadcast banter, which was frank and often funny, was so strong that NBC decided to send them to the Kentucky Derby after the 2014 Olympics. Now they are headed to the first Grand Prix event of the season. They might work at non-skating events down the road, but both said their top priority is skating.

Lipinski, Weir and Gannon replace NBC's longtime team of Scott Hamilton, Tom Hammond and Sandra Bezic, although Hamilton will continue to work with the network in various capacities. Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC Olympics said the network had "no shortage of need for someone of Scott's stature." Hamilton has been broadcasting skating events since 1992 and has worked with NBC since 2002. He is expected to be at the U.S. championships and the Olympics.

Lipinski and Weir changed everything when they donned gold tiaras and plenty of bling to the booth in Sochi.

"Johnny, Tara and Terry were breakout stars in Sochi," Bell said. "We're excited that viewers will be treated to this team's informative and entertaining commentary for many years to come, all the while looking fabulous."

During a national teleconference with reporters Wednesday afternoon, a reporter asked Weir about his transformation from the "outspoken black sheep" in figure skating to one of the sport's most ballyhooed stars.

Weir laughed and said, "Don't get it twisted. I'm still an outspoken black sheep in figure skating."

But neither Lipinski nor Weir would go so far as to call their on-air comments outrageous. Instead, they said they are simply being honest.

"I never really think that what we say is outrageous, but maybe it is," Lipinski said. "We want to be real about what the sport is."

With the Grand Prix Series set to begin, the two offered their thoughts on the sport -- mainly the competition in Chicago and their take on lyrics in programs.

The women's competition at Skate America will focus a lot on Gracie Gold, but Lipinski tempered any hype around the reigning U.S. champion, noting that Gold has had "trouble with consistency" and a "tough offseason." Weir added he was hoping her conditioning had improved.

Both Lipinski and Weir talked a lot about 15-year-old Elena Radionova. Too young to compete in Sochi, she has been in the thick of competition in Russia. Had her age not been an issue, she probably could have held her own in the Winter Games. Weir, who was just in Russia, said he had been told some of her practices have been so strong that they have left her in tears. Lipinski said she has been impressed with Radionova since seeing her perform during the Sochi skating exhibition.

"Oh my goodness," Lipinski recalled thinking. "This is going to be the girl to watch."

On the men's side, Lipinski said she is looking forward to watching Americans Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown. Weir said his personal favorite is Japan's Tatsuki Machida, the defending Skate America champion and the reigning world silver medalist.

When asked about lyrics being allowed in singles skating this season, Weir said, "I'm terrified" and called lyrics "the devil's playground."

"I'm terrified of lyrics, especially if someone picked a terrible song you're going to hear all season," Weir said.

Weir also said that having lyrics takes away from original choreography but said in some cases, when a skater struggles on the artistic side, lyrics can give the skater a boost.

Lipinski said there is a fear that lyrics will be too "cheesy" or "gimmicky" and added that a lot of skaters are not using lyrics this season because they don't want to be the guinea pigs. Lyrics have been permitted this season in an attempt to update the sport, but some skaters are playing it safe and using lyrics in more classical pieces, which Lipinski argued will defeat the purpose.

Skaters like Douglas Razzano, who will compete at Skate America this weekend, are looking forward to hearing more from Lipinski and Weir. Razzano, who enjoyed tuning into their commentary during the Sochi broadcasts, said they balance "insightfulness with fun and lightheartedness."

When asked about what it will be like to have them comment on his own skating this weekend, Razzano said, "I would be curious to hear their thoughts but hope to give them a great performance to comment on."

U.S. ice dancers Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin Mcmanus said they were looking forward to seeing Lipinski and Weir around the rink this weekend. In an email to icenetwork, they said, "We think Tara and Johnny will be super fun in the booth! They're great at bringing in viewers, which is always a very positive thing."