Tara Lipinski Wins the Gold and Emma Has a Rough Night

Tara Lipinski celebrates after completing her free skate program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday, Jan. 10,
Tara Lipinski celebrates after completing her free skate program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday, Jan. 10, 1998, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)

When Tara Lipinski won the gold medal for women's singles figure skating in 1998, I experienced the wake-up call of a lifetime. She was 15. I was 12. My fate met me as I reached up to place a towel on the upper shelf of the linen closet next to the upstairs bathroom. Tara Lipinski was to win a gold medal that night and I was to put away laundry.

There was no way that, in three years, I could a) learn to ice skate and b) win a gold medal. Besides, by the next Winter Olympics, I'd be 16: a has-been. My window to be a child prodigy had opened and closed and I still hadn't even found my one true gift. Yes, I was good at spelling. Yes, I was in the "Gifted and Talented" program. But those were Jewish things, expected and unexceptional. Besides, those were fat girl gifts. I wanted to be lighter than air and excellent beyond measure.

My moms and I sat down to watch the 1998 Winter Olympics and I felt queasy. I wanted Michelle Kwan to win, desperately. At 17 she seemed more accessible to me. Maybe by 17 I could be somebody great too. But would Michelle's artistry and interpretation be a match for the cold, hard technical ability of Tara Lipinski?

Tara was the youngest ever to complete a triple loop-triple loop and a triple toe/half loop/triple salchow. It was gut-punchingly beautiful: 75 pounds of royal blue breath and joy cut the air like a tiny goddess.

I've had many talented friends and I've recognized this quality in all of them. When a girl is a natural she has a glow in her cheeks, a humble exultation that says, "I don't know how I got this gift, but I'm sure as hell gonna share it." You can see it in early videos of Mariah Carey too. She slips into her whistle tone and seems to inwardly giggle, saying: "I know, right?"

In an early video of me, naked and covered in chicken pox, I perform "A Little Mermaid: The Puppet Show." I mean... should I even exist?

If Michelle Kwan could pull off this gold medal, I told myself, there was hope for the rest of us: all the 12-year-olds who felt things deeply, but were imperfect. Michelle skated flawlessly, but it wasn't enough. For all her artistry and fine interpretation, which the judges and commentators extolled, Tara took the gold.

When 2002 rolled around and Michelle's hand touched the ice in her long program, the crowd let out a wounded exhalation and it shot me off the couch like a piston, "Ok, I'm going to bed."

My mothers: "You don't even wanna watch the medal ceremony? She hasn't even finished the routine yet. Don't you like the costume?"

I lay upstairs worrying for Michelle Kwan. Worrying for myself. And watching her hand, over and over, touch the ice to come in second place again.

Read more from Emma about growing up and being a grownup with two moms at two-and-a-half-women.tumblr.com.