Family matters most to Tara Lipinski.
Lipinski said she's turning pro and giving up a chance at another Olympic gold medal so she can begin repaying the sacrifices her parents made to help her become a skating champion."I've been thinking a lot about turning pro, thinking since Nagano, but I really needed time to think more about it," the 15-year-old Olympic champion said.
Not that she won't have a busy schedule, beginning tonight with the Champions on Ice tour opener in Baltimore. Lipinski, who will be paid about $15,000 for each show, won't lose her Olympic eligibility until she appears in a non-sanctioned event. That likely will occur April 24 in the made-for-television "Skate, Rattle 'n' Roll," in Charleston, S.C.
But Lipinski, the youngest Olympic, world and U.S. champion, made it clear that family ties would keep her closer to her Sugar Land, Texas, home.
"Now I'll have four-day weekends and be able to be with my family, because they mean so much to me," she said. "I don't want to be 21 and not know my dad."
Lipinski's father, Jack, an oil company executive, rarely traveled with his daughter, remaining at home in Sugar Land. Lipinski trained in Detroit with Richard Callaghan, joined there by her mother, Pat.
"It was totally Tara," Pat Lipinski said of the decision to leave behind rival Michelle Kwan and, for now, forget about defending her title in the 2002 Winters Olympics at Salt Lake City.
She will, however, be making frequent appearances for Disney World, one of her endorsers, and a movie role is being discussed.
The only time professionals were allowed to compete in the Olympics was 1994. The reinstatement window that applied to ineligible skaters no longer exists. It had allowed champions including Brian Boitano, Viktor Petrenko, Katarina Witt and Yekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov to return to the Lillehammer Games.
International Skating Union officials scoffed at the possibility that such a mechanism might exist again by 2002.