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Tara Lipinski vs. Michelle Kwan

Updated on October 15, 2014

Battle between Kwan and Lipinski

The face-off between Kwan and Lipinski was one of the most controversial events perhaps.

I, for one, once thought Lipinski's win over Kwan was not quite justifiable. So why don't we take a close look at the competition?

Although it is not fair to judge the competition based on today's standards on one hand, it is still valid to judge any competition in terms of figure skating ideal.

This is largely due to a great skater like Yuna Kim. Despite the current ISU's fallout and the scandalous mutation of the sport, Kim contributed to realization of the ideal in terms of the COP system.

Thus, in the perspective of figure skating and its ideal, we still can project a great insight into not only present but also the past.

Tara Lipinski in 1988

Lipinski: a 15 year old wonder kid

As you already notice, Lipinski at 15 shows no junorism in her skating. Her edge and body moves are all rock solid in stability and balance.

Only her height can be a disadvantage, but her overall skating appears remarkably healthy.

You can't help feeling defrauded by the stark contrast with the current ISU's deformed skating. It's simply a hideous crime against the sport. Not a single skater in the past, either top ranking or average skaters, shows today's deformity or monstrous deficiency and imbalance in their skating.

Lipinski, unlike Sarah Hughes, is a skater in the same level with Kwan; therefore the two share the same average PCS by default.

But let's take a look at Lipinski's jumps. Strictly speaking Lipinski's jump quality ranges -2 to -1 due to her long preparation, kicking habit, height, landing, but the degree of deficiency is relatively small.

In the 6.0 system, those flaws might have gotten away without getting penalized. And I more agree to the merits of her skating than her defects.

Lipinski's best comes with her expressiveness. That edges Kwan out without shadow of doubt.


Assuming that Lipinski's program layout is like today's skaters

How do you grade Lipinski's free?

See results

Michelle Kwan in 1988

Hypothetically, if Kwan 's layout is similar to today's skaters

How do you grade Kwan's free?

See results

Kwan: unlucky heroine

Kwan's mental becomes her own trap. There is no doubt Kwan could have won the competition if she had exerted her efforts to shape herself up.

The more I watch her skating, the more I am convinced that Michelle underestimated her foes. First of all, back then, most competitors had a shot to the podium with their own ability. In other words, their differences are very technical and marginal.

In PCS stand points 7-8 skaters are all equal. Therefore, there is no margin of error even for Kwan who dominated the era like no other.

There is no doubt Kwan is a better skater in skills and polishing than Lipinski, but her performance appears just barely average of her capacity while her competitor brings out her tough edge.

The most critical component that shifts the balance to Lipinski's favor is Kwan's nerve, which slows Kwan down. In figure skating speed and power are the most potent elements that even enable to drastically shift the average PCS.

No matter how great you are as a skater, without speed and power your skating will be compromised to the sublevel. The obvious reason is that the two elements are the very gauge for control of all other elements.

Some of Kwan's jumps are qualified even for +1 to 0, while Lipinski's jumps remain sub 0 or -1. But Lipinski's performance merits easily level with Kwan's advantages.

Michelle Kwan in 1988

Kwan's defeated by her own nerve.

Her jump qualities are here -2 to 0, except her triple toe. I may award her +1 for the triple toe, but her overall speed seems critically desired to be fully credited for her due PCS.

Kwan's nerve again caught her, I think, even though she came back in later part of the program.

This is a classic example how skaters mentally are impeded.


Assuming that Kwan's program is similar to todays' skaters

How do you grade Kwan's short?

See results

Tara Lipinski in 1988

Lipinski: a tiny skater with gigantic presentation

Lipinski's jump quality is low overall, perhaps -2 to -1 while her speed and power are satisfactory; at the same time, her balance and edge are remarkably solid and excellent.

In the 6.0 system, she can have edge over other competitors. Her weakness lies in jump qualities such as air position, height, and landing, which are not quite satisfactory while her speed and edge control look good.

But the most brilliant part in her skating is her expressiveness, as Scott mentioned. Her maturity in expressiveness is simply breathtaking. That's her key weapon in competition.

In conclusion, I think Lipinski has won with a small margin.

Assuming Lipinski has the same layout as Kwan's

How do you grade Lipinski's short?

See results

Never mind all the arguments above. Just spill out your opinion.

Who do you think is the real winner in 1998?

See results

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