February 20, 1998
For most of the experts, the result of the women’s figure skating at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998 was a foregone conclusion.
In the words of one prominent journalist, USA’s Michelle Kwan was “runaway favourite, so far ahead of her competition that she literally will have to stumble to lose it.”
Her main competitor was compatriot Tara Lipinski, the 15-year-old she had beaten at the US trials the previous year.
However, Lipinski had also beaten an under-par Kwan to gold at both the national and World Figure Skating Championships in 1997 – so warning had been served
In Nagano, Japan the two followed very different regimes.
Kwan, 17, chose to stay in a house with her parents rather than in the athletes’ village, keeping herself to herself.
In contrast, Lipinski became the youngest resident of the village, mixing with the other athletes and journalists, and seeming to love every moment of the experience.
— Olympics (@Olympics) November 26, 2013
After the short programme, Kwan led narrowly, with her American rival in second.
The older American went out first in the long programme on Friday and, although she was impressive and precise, she seemed to be performing within herself.
Her scores were strong, but still gave Lipinski a glimmer of a chance – one which she grabbed with both hands.
“She had a blast: she soared and spun with abandon, filling the White Ring with joy,” the Sports Illustrated correspondent wrote of the 15-year-old’s performance.
And when the scores went up, Lipinski shrieked with joy. Kwan had beaten her narrowly on artistic impression, but she was the clear winner on technique.
At the age of just 15 years and 255 days, she became the youngest individual gold medal winner at a Winter Games. And that night, she slept with the medal still around her neck.