NBC Figure Skating Team of Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir a Revelation at Dawn

Diane Pucin@@mepucinOlympics Lead WriterFebruary 16, 2014

What's better than a jolt of caffeine? 

A nugget of fun information from an evening of Sochi skating when it's morning in America.

Like this: When the first round of ice dance began Sunday, a brother-sister team opened as the first of 24 dancers, and Johnny Weir immediately said, "Sharing DNA helps these two, I think."

He said it while the team swirled and twirled with abandon. They weren't going to be medalists, but then Tara Lipinski added: "They were together, they have a future."

And there it was.

Weir can wake a person up quickly. On Sunday, he wore a bright green jacket, as if he had forgotten St. Patrick's Day doesn't arrive until next month, and a matching tiara. No, really—a tiara for his pairing with Lipinski, who sported a swirly pink and brown jacket and a long green flower in her hair.

But in a testament to the commentary they offer, the wild clothes don't take away from their spot-on analysis.

And let's not forget Terry Gannon, who plays the role that Ernie Johnson does so well for the NBA on TNT.

Johnson keeps chatty Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith in check when needed. Gannon handles the inside and impromptu takes of Lipinski and Weir as if they were scripted.

And now we can say that in these Olympics, NBC has introduced us to the heirs apparent to Dick Button and Peggy Fleming: Lipinski and Weir.

It's not just those two who have sparkled for the NBC team. 

Mary Carillo's disparate essays on taking the train across Russia and spending a day with Maria Sharapova in a return to her former Sochi hometown or at a Russian ice rink were totally worth watching.

Cross-country ski and biathlon announcer Chad Salmela, who was once a member of the national biathlon team, is being compared to excitable basketball announcer Gus Johnson.

Luge announcer Leigh Diffey was able to have fun with American Kate Hansen and her crazy pre-race dancing. Football guy Lewis Johnson is a total pro with both luge and bobsled.

Speaking of football, you can never go wrong letting Cris Collinsworth freelance the way he has here. He's a sports fan, and it shows.

But Lipinski and Weir have been the major Sochi announcing revelation.

On Valentine's Day, Lipinski wore a blouse with little pink hearts, and Weir came to the broadcast booth in a hot-pink Chanel blazer, accentuated by a lace top and his well-coiffed bouffant hairdo.

But soon you forget the clothes because Lipinski and Weir have become an excellent pair of analysts, more fun than the prime-time team of Sandra Bezic, a choreographer, and Scott Hamilton, a former gold medalist.

And maybe that's how it should be. If you're watching figure skating at dawn, there should be some fun to go with the analysis.

Not that Bezic and Hamilton aren't up to snuff, but Lipinski and Weir, in tandem with Gannon, who has the ability to make subtle and self-deprecating cracks at just the right moment, have become must-watch TV even on the West Coast before the sun comes up.

Weir can help us when the Russians skate, especially. He speaks their language—and we're not talking just skating.

When an ice dance team of Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones were out in the first group Sunday, Weir said, "The man is the peacock of the couple and that doesn't usually happen." Lipinski giggled appropriately. 

Weir informed viewers that the International Skating Union picked the quickstep mixed with the foxtrot as this year's mandatory short program, which was skated Sunday. 

When the first Russian team finished, Lipinski was not afraid to say the performance was "a little bit junior, a little bit choppy." She explained what a "twizzle" is (not a piece of licorice, but side-by-side spins), saying that the move is "very difficult to pull off together, and the most important element."

Weir also knows when to keep quiet, and Lipinski, who was a chatterbox when she was a gold-medal-winning skater, has learned to tone down the number of her words.

For example, during the ethereal pairs final, when Russians Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar blew the roof off the place with their performance to "Jesus Christ Superstar," all Weir said was, "They were a little stiffer than we're used to seeing but it doesn't matter."

Weir uses words with ease—not to be funny or sarcastic, but to be informative.

By doing the early-morning live commentary, Lipinski and Weir don't have the luxury, as Bezic and Hamilton do, of watching the performances and talking only about the best. Bezic and Hamilton usually break down the performances of only the cream of the crop, of the group of final six skaters.

Lipinski and Weir must talk about the new skaters, the ones in the early groups who haven't earned their way to the top. 

It's much more difficult to analyze poor skating than excellent skating.

During the men's singles program, Weir broke down why a particular man missed his quadruple jump. "He broke out of the revolution too soon. For a quad, you need to hold until you feel your foot hit the ice." For a novice watcher, that painted the perfect picture.

Gannon uses his role as grownup to ask just the right question. There are new rules this year that allowed skaters to use music with lyrics. Gannon asked Lipinski and Weir about that.

"I can't wait to see an Eminem short program from one of the boys," Weir said. Lipinski gave him a sideways glance and said, "Why not the girls? You know I'd love that." She then asked, "Could one skate to Beyonce? Then I'm in."

One of Weir's best lines came when an Austrian female skater performed in short shorts, or more colloquially, "Daisy Dukes." "I applaud her use of the short shorts," Weir said. "It's reminiscent of our own Terry Gannon [a former North Carolina State guard] in the 1983 basketball championships."

Lipinski described a skating pair precisely: "The man has to be the frame and the woman has to be the pretty picture."

Who among us could come up with the metaphor so easily and on a microphone?

Gannon asks just the right question at the right time.

"Are the ice dancers the best skaters, Johnny?" he asked Weir.

"Sometimes," Weir said, "because they need deep edges but it's hard to compare to the pairs who have to make all those throws. But the ice dancers are always the first ones in the rink, putting their mascara on."

And when Gannon pressed him about whether ice dancers would fare well on the popular TV show Dancing with the Stars, the disdain was obvious in Weir's voice.

"It's not the same thing," Weir said. His change of voice, from lighthearted and dancy to seriously unhappy, indicated Gannon needed to leave that line of questioning. So he did.

Weir did a nice breakdown, explaining that while pairs can suffer a multitude of injuries and that ice dancers can stay around longer, ice dancing is not injury free. "It takes a toll on your knees," he said. 

Then he segued into speaking about how ice dancers can manipulate the inside and outside edges of their skates depending on the program and the required dance. While the scores of a Russian team were booed, Weir noted, "They just weren't up to par," an honest comment from a man who proclaims his love for Russia.

He had no trouble pointing out that the second American ice dance couple, brother and sister Maia and Alex Shibutani, had trouble because, "It's hard to do the sexual dances when you are brother and sister."

Lipinski followed up with, "You just have to be careful of the music you pick, the story you tell."

And after she praised the short program of Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Weir dropped this memorable line: "That was wonderful. We need some plumage."

Said by a man who not only believes it, but lives it.

With the second round of ice dancing still to come plus the women's short and long programs, there's still plenty of time to get up early and enjoy Lipinski and Weir, the newest stars of the Olympics.


Diane Pucin is the Olympics lead writer for Bleacher Report. She covered eight Games for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @mepucin.


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