Gold winner Tara Lipinski describes the pressure on teen Olympians

Women’s figure skating at the Olympics has long been dominated by teenagers. At the last two Winter Games in Sochi and Pyeongchang, the gold medal was won by 15-year-olds. And Russia’s 15-year-old Kamila Valiyeva is the favorite to win this year.

The competition will be NBC Sports figure skating analyst Tara Lipinski, who also won gold as a 15-year-old while representing the United States in Nagano in 1998. And Lipinski says young athletes face a different kind of pressure than older competitors.

“The reality was that I was a kid at the Olympics,” Lipinski told CNBC Make It. “If you had asked me when I was 12 or 13 or 14, I would have said ‘100% this is my job, this is my career, this is all I want’.”

The reality was that I was a kid at the Olympics.

Tara Lipinski

Olympic gold medalist

Lipinski says that because she started skating when she was 3 and the sport was “all I knew”, she put an unreasonable amount of pressure on herself to be successful.

“Many times over the course of my career, I don’t think I was able to understand that there was so much more outside of figure skating because that was all I did and all that I knew,” she says. “And so the lows were much lower, because for me at the time, I sometimes felt that if I did not win, my career would be over.”

Now 39, the master skater says that as she got older, she was able to find “other things in life” that brought her satisfaction beyond skating.

“When you’re so young, you have a different mindset, and you just don’t have the life experience or the perspective you have as an adult that definitely helps balance the pressure,” Lipinski says.

Even though she no longer skates, Lipinski still likes to challenge herself by choosing “impossible things to do” and seeing if she can achieve them.

“I don’t think I could wake up and just be happy without having something to work towards,” she says. “It’s fun, even if it does not always go your way.”

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