If you watched the 2014 Winter Olympics, chances are you saw figure skating commentators Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinksi. Both competed in the past Olympics — Lipinksi won gold as a 15-year-old at the 1998 Games, while Weir skated (but didn’t medal) in 2006 and 2010 — so they were expertly qualified to weigh in on the action at Sochi. But it wasn’t what they said on air that made them overnight sensations. It was what they wore. Weir and Lipinski were the talk of Sochi thanks to their matching (sometimes crazy) outfits and hairdos. And when they returned to the US they were superstars.
On Friday, Weir and Lipinski were in New York to watch the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Paralympic Games with Olympians and members of the media. Sports Illustrated Kids talked to the duo at the party about their experience in Sochi, their massive popularity, and tips they have for kids who want to be skaters.
Did you guys think you'd have this post-skating life of popular on-air personalities?
Tara Lipinski: I feel like we've always been in a really extremely lucky sport, just because it is the premiere event at the Olympics a lot of times and there's been lots of opportunities after skating. It's a little different now, but definitely during my time there was just so many possibilities, so many opportunities, you know, not just being an amateur competitor but being a professional, touring, being an artist, entertaining. It gave us so many different avenues to choose from. So I feel that, for me, it's sort of always just organically happened, from competing to, you know, entertaining, and being a professional into broadcast.
Johnny Weir: I didn't start to realize that I would be an entertainer for any longer than my competitions until I started to skate. I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics, I knew I wanted to skate, but after that I had no idea. And as soon as I stood in my first audience of, you know, thousands of people, I wanted to do it. I wanted to entertain people for the rest of my life. And that's really what my goal is. And with Tara we have a great time together and it's fun to work with your friends. But, at the same time, for me, I want to make people laugh, I want to make people cry, and I want to give a good show.
Did you expect there to be this explosion of popularity out of the Olympics?
JW: I didn't expect it from this Olympics. We come from different skating generations, so after she skated she had Barbie and Disney and all of these amazing companies, and then skating kind of went down the drain a little bit because of judging scandals and people not really believing in it as a sport. But, you know, I've enjoyed a good level of success in pop culture and the entertainment industry since my Olympic run in 2010. I had a reality show, I worked for ABC on another reality show, and I've done a lot. But this, I definitely didn't expect. I didn't expect us to be as popular as we are as a team and then individually as well, and just for commentating and wearing pretty clothes that we would wear anyway, I think it's wild that we're having this kind of experience. But it's so wonderful and we're so honored.
How did you work together in terms of what you wore? Did you coordinate it every day, or...?
JW: We packed separately, so I had no idea she was going to pack pink or she had no idea I was going to pack pink to wear. But once we were there and once all our clothes were laid out in the closets and we had everything available to us, we put things together that would make sense and we came up with themes, because it was fun. It's two friends getting ready to go do their jobs.
Who are your design and fashion inspirations?
TL: Well I love a ton of designers. But I love Zac Posen, Rick Owens, Chanel, I love Celine, the Row.
JW: I love Karl Lagerfeld. He's the head designer for Chanel. Lady Gaga's a huge inspiration of mine. Definitely I'm inspired by Christmastime. (laughs) And my glitter. And designers, I love Hermes, Chanel, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh is wonderful. I'm a big follower and lover of fashion, so I love pretty much anyone that's ever made anything.
What was your relationship like before this Olympics?
TL: Well, we worked together all season, starting in the fall, and it was our idea to actually combine and tell them, "We should do this together," which was a great decision on our part. But, yeah, we've known each other for a long time. The skating world is pretty small. But we never had the opportunity to really bond like this.
JW: And now, we're together, well, through the fall and through the Olympics we're together every week until now. We're constantly together, we're constantly bouncing ideas off of each other, we're taking a lot of steps forward in our careers together as well as separately and it's wonderful to work with my best friend and be able to share every ounce of success and happiness that I'm feeling with somebody else. It's really wonderful.
What tips would you give to kids who want to be skaters or even do what you do now as on-air commentators?
TL: I would say really make sure you love what you're doing, because that's the only thing that's going to give you that longevity of being able to train every day and go through those ups and downs that you'll most definitely encounter. And then also, I've always been a believer in hard work. You know? When I stepped off the ice when I was training, I always wanted to step off and know I worked the longest, hardest — I might not see my competitors, but somehow I know that I stayed on the ice 10 minutes longer and worked harder and put in that time that gives you rewards later on.
JW: For me, for kids, I think it's important to never be afraid of falling down because it really sculpts who you are to be able to get back up and move on. And also to dare to dream, dare to be different, and believe in yourself for everything that you are and everything that you aren't, because not every kid has the best childhood and growing up... So, I definitely really had to dig deep and learn who I was very early on, and I think figure skating teaches that. So I think definitely badger your parents to get you on the ice.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Check out a slideshow of some of Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski’s best looks from before, during, and after the 2014 Winter Olympics!
Photo: John Berry/Getty Images, USOC
A Quick Q&A with Sochi Stars Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski